Category Archives: Grief

Pot smoking teens and other family dramas

Hey readers,

PJ Sharon here on a lovely autumn day in the Berkshires. I’ve actually seen a few patches of yellowed leaves on the trees and the star-filled nights here are getting cool.Crane This crane will likely be taking flight to warmer climes soon enough.

It’s also the time of year for the spreading of colds and such.*sniffle…sniffle*

I guess I can’t complain. It’s the first time I’ve been sick in a few years and it gives me some needed downtime to rest and reflect…and write.

As I swim through the murky middle of my current work in progress, PIECES OF LOVE, I’m reminded of my own teen dramas and those of my many siblings. You see, I grew up in a pretty crazy, dysfunctional family. Lots of alcohol, a dash of mental illness, secrets, lies, some seriously scary and frequent catastrophes, and lots of drama! Yes, we all loved each other in our own way, but each person in that house of seven children and three adults, was flawed. As we all are. It’s what makes us human. It’s also what makes us interesting to paint into the canvas of a story.

There’s a reason that I write YA dramas that touch on  taboo topics that encompass everything from grief and loss of a loved one, to teen pregnancy, bulimia, the effects of war, and even sexual abuse. I draw as much as possible from personal experience and from all that I have seen to be true in the human condition.

So when I began PIECES OF LOVE, I wanted to make sure to give Ali’s plight its due. Not that I’ve ever lost someone to an alcohol overdose or been arrested for marijuana possession, but I’ve certainly seen my share of these kinds of family dramas to draw real emotion and conflict from them. Understanding the motivation behind why people do what they do is a key element in making your fiction believable. As is sharing accurate and interesting detail to utilize your setting to enhance your character’s journey. Since I’ve been on a Mediterranean cruise, I have lots of insights into how Ali sees the world anew with each port she visits. It’s been fun and interesting to revisit the places I went and relive it all through her eyes, watching her transformation from self-centered, immature teen trying desperately to avoid dealing with the painful realities of life, to a young woman who learns to appreciate the people in her life who love her.

Here’s the blurb for PIECES OF LOVE:

Sixteen year-old Alexis Hartman wants nothing more than to smoke pot and play guitar. What’s the point in planning for the future? Her world is shattered by her sister’s accidental alcohol overdose at college, and she is arrested for marijuana possession a second time. Her mother’s breakdown is the final straw that forces Ali to spend the summer with her Grandmother in Malibu.

But problems aren’t so easily dismissed. After Ali steps over the line one too many times, she’s certain her life is over and that she’s destined for juvenile detention. Her ‘Malibu Barbie’ grandmother, Maddie, takes desperate measures…a Mediterranean cruise…for seniors. If overwhelmed and motion sick Ali needs further torment, Maddie has decided that her granddaughter’s childish name could use an upgrade and renames her Lexi. Can a new name and a French haircut fix everything that’s wrong with Ali’s life? Maybe when Ethan Kaswell says the name.

Eighteen year-old Ethan, the poster child for being a good son, who is stranded on the cruise when his famous heart surgeon father is kept away by an important consultation, finds Lexi irresistible. Although he’s smart enough to see that there is no future in falling for a “vacation crush,” Lexi’s edgy dark side and soulfully sad eyes draw him like an anchor to the bottom of the sea. As she spirals out of control, will she bring him down too, or was he already drowning? Maybe by saving her, he can save himself. 

Greece2011 224 (2013_02_16 18_14_38 UTC)Visiting such ports as Portofino, Italy; Palermo, Sicily; and Rome. From the Greek Islands to Tunisia, North Africa; and Barcelona, Spain to Dubrovnik, Croatia; you’ll see the sights and walk on sacred ground with Ali as she learns about herself, her family, and what it means to love someone–even when you have to let them go.

Infusing our own experiences, we can create flawed but redeemable characters who are on a journey of self-discovery. The more vividly we can paint that portrait, the more we bring the story to life with their color, depth, and the rich texture of emotional reactionary drama that makes us connect to them in an intimate way. When the character’s fatal flaw forces them to face the consequences of their actions and choices, and we see them grow, it’s satisfying and uplifting. Readers heart’s are touched. It’s what all writers strive for and is so challenging to do, and do well.

One thing I’m sure of is that we can’t shy away from addressing tough issues when writing for teens, but we have to be willing to step fully into their shoes to get it right. Knowing that “pot” is now mostly referred to as “weed” and other such specifics, are important for authenticity, and can only be known if you hang around teenagers and ask questions. It’s been my experience that they are most willing to share their opinions and ideas when I tell them why I’m asking. They seem to appreciate that I’m willing to have an open dialogue and that I’m not interested in judging them. I don’t think any of my teen library group kids are “potheads,” or “stoners” as they call them, but they are fully engaged in the youth culture in a way that I am not.

I’m hoping for the book to be ready for release in the first part of 2014. A cover reveal and the ability to pre-order the book through Smashwords should be coming up at the end of November. I’m also working on recording a theme song for the book–possibly two, written by yours truly!

So if you’re a writer, write what you know, ‘they’ say. I agree. Either draw from your own experiences, or find a way to walk in someone else’s moccasins for a mile or two. Your characters will be so much richer for it! Just be real, and let your characters take the story where it needs to go. You might even experience some healing as you create/or re-create a painful real-life event that still holds you back from being the best you can be–just like your characters.

I often have to remind myself that ‘do-overs and make-believe are not only allowed in fiction writing, but encouraged.’

Today’s unlocked secret: Infuse your personal experiences into your writing to create vivid, authentic, and memorable characters. Don’t be afraid to tackle the tough problems, and keep it real.

I’m heading back to bed for more rest. I have to be better for my trip to Nashville and New Orleans later this week, where I’ll be at my step-son’s wedding and doing some research for book three in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. I hate getting on a plane and being THAT person who gets everyone else sick. I’m also thinking my sinuses aren’t going to appreciate the flight…uggh!

To happier thoughts and my original statement in this post, I really do love it here in the hills. Our town has the cleanest air on record in Massachusetts, and has one of the healthiest ecosystems. I routinely see lots of wildlife, including a host of various birds here. Although with hunting season commencing, and flight of the migratory bird populations, that will likely be less now. Blue heronI am so grateful to live where I live and feel blessed to be part of my small community.

As such, I’m participating once again at the Granville Harvest Fair coming up Columbus Day weekend (October 12-14). I’ll be hanging out in front of the library signing books with a few other authors. If you’re in North Central CT or Western MA, I hope you’ll stop by and say hello. There’s tons to see and do. I swear, we have one of the BEST harvest fairs in New England!

Do you write what you know, or rely on a mix of research, empathy, and experience? I’d love to hear from you about your process and how you make your characters authentic.

My Doxie, A Poem and Me

It’s snowing off and on as I write this, and I’m thinking of my two favorite other snow days when my husband didn’t have to go to work, and we had the days to ourselves. One of those days, while the snow piled high outside, inside, we listened to music and read and talked, warmed by the fire. The second time, we braved the elements to have lunch by firelight at a local rustic inn.

Those are romantic moments to me. I’ve often said we romance authors are all married to engineers even if they aren’t engineers. My husband is an educator, teacher of English and former high school administrator. But really, he’s an engineer. He’s linear, he’s a one-thing-at-a-time guy, he doesn’t sugar coat anything. He solves problems. Don’t all heroes?

Another favorite memory happened on a summer day when he wanted me to listen to an album of poetry — Billy Collins — so we drove to Litchfield listening to the CD, had lunch, and continued listening on the way home. After which I immediately wanted to start writing poetry because listening to Billy Collins just inspires you that way.
One of the poems, “The Revenant,” really resonated with me. It was from the viewpoint of a dog in the afterlife, finally confessing his true feelings about his long-time owners, words to the effect of — I never liked you. I hated the food you made me eat. I despised this. I never liked that.
You get the idea. A litany of dislikes and resentments. It made me look at my mini-doxie in a whole new light. Did she hate me? Despise the “naming of the parts” game I played with her? Hate all the silly nicknames I gave her? Did she resent my re-naming her “Munch”?

She was my mother-in-law’s dog, as I may have mentioned previously, a gift after the sudden death of mom’s then canine companion, Casey. The problem was, mom was ninety at the time, had macular degeneration, and was pretty unsteady on her legs.
So my Munchkin started out in pretty shaky circumstances: taken from her mother at 6 weeks, flown up to NY, put in the hands of strangers who then gave her to an elderly nearly blind lady who couldn’t properly care for her.

Something had to give; a year or so later, something did: mom fell, went to the hospital, and we took Midgie. At the time we had our beloved galumphing lab mix, Maggie who was about four times Midgie’s size. We honestly didn’t know what to expect. Mom always thought Midgie would be eaten alive by Maggie. But that didn’t happen.
They got along just fine. Midgie — or Munch — would chase Maggie around the kitchen-dining-living room and then hide under her legs so Maggie couldn’t find her. Or she’d climb up on the couch pillows dive bomb onto Maggie’s back. When they slept, Munch’s body language imitated Maggie’s. I really think Maggie taught Munch how to behave.

She was, as was Maggie, the Best Dog Ever. We were privileged to love her for ten years, and our beloved Maggie for twelve. We lost Maggie to cancer two years before Munch passed away a dozen days into 2011.
Munch’s was the hardest passing to bear, maybe because we’re that much older. And so, the first time in 45 years, we don’t have a dog in the house.
In truth, I’m a little scared. What will he think? What if he hates us? How will we know? And, after all, we still have memories and pictures – and a cat.
I really don’t want to wonder if Munch was happy — I think she was — I loved her to pieces, walked her, fed her, spoiled her rotten, made up songs about her, played with her — but a year after that lovely lunch in Litchfield, that Billy Collins poem continues to haunt me. I never liked you …
And still I wonder …
Did she hate me?

Do you have a pet? Would you? Wonder, I mean …]
How powerful words are.
How about you? Any pet stories to tell? Any poems that resonated on that level? Meantime, I’d seriously advise you to occasionally look deep into your pet’s eyes and try to divine what she or he is really thinking.

(You can read The Revenant on-line.)

Thea Devine’s books defined erotic historical romance. She’s the USAToday best-selling author of 25 historical and contemporary romances and a dozen novellas. She’s currently working on an erotic contemporary romance. She misses her Munchkin terribly.

Trust Your Story

Tuesday’s Scribe, PJ Sharon here. Have you ever been writing along, minding your plot and meeting your daily word count, only to have your character take you “off track”? Do you catch yourself swearing at your characters and asking them, “Where the *&%*@# are you taking me?” Well, let me tell you…I’ve learned to let them have their way—at least on the first draft. Let me explain why.

After several manuscripts and three or four published novels, I’m finally beginning to trust my internal process. It seems that my unconscious mind knows a lot more about my characters than my conscious mind does and if I let the story evolve organically—rather than trying to control every word that lands on the page—some miraculous things happen. Characters take me to the most interesting places, and if I go along for the ride, there is usually some grand reason they needed to go there. A piece of the puzzle is found, a character flaw is brought to light, or an opportunity for character growth presents itself.

When I wrote ON THIN ICE a few years ago, Penny’s story unfolded and jumped onto the page with such abandon, it seemed as if it was writing itself. I hadn’t planned on all the twists and turns that her story would take, but as it developed and each thread wove itself into her character arc, I had no choice but to follow and see how everything came together in the end. Amazingly, her journey turned out to be profoundly complex and beautiful. Of course, my problem was then trying to sell a story that had multiple subplots and more drama than a season of Dallas.

I had several published authors, a few agents, and even a couple of editors tell me the same thing…get rid of at least two—preferably three—of the subplots. I was told “One teenager could not possibly deal with all of these issues and one or two is enough for any one book if you want to explore them in depth.” So I tried to unravel my plot to remove some of the “unnecessary” subplots. The problem was that I couldn’t. I struggled for several months trying to make the story “marketable” by choosing one story line and then bleeding all over the page for 250 pages. I couldn’t make it work. Deconstructing the story seemed like an impossible task without it losing that special something that made it unique and authentic. Worse, was that it felt like I wasn’t being true to my character. Penny needed to go through all the trials and tribulations she endured in order to become the person she was at the end of the story. It was her journey—not mine—and I didn’t feel right about robbing her of any of the experiences that made her who she was.

Ultimately, I shelved the story and began writing Heaven Is For Heroes, which turned out to be a much more “marketable” story, but by that time, I had decided that the kind of stories I wanted to write were likely not going to fit into a specific mold and that I wasn’t willing to have a traditional publisher “brand” me (ouch!) and put me in a “box” (NO…Not the box!). Enter—Indie publishing.

One of the many things that drew me to Indie pubbing was the freedom to be true to the creative process and write what is in my heart. I’m convinced that there are readers for every well-written book—even if/especially if—it fits outside the box. Why should readers be fed only stories that publishers have deemed saleable? As it turns out, many Indie authors are finding great success because they are taking risks and writing something different. The upsurge in the “New Adult” market proves that readers of all ages want something new–stories that bridge the gap between YA and adult romance–stories about what happens when young adults are faced with real life issues that push them into adulthood.

Although I’ve learned to rein in my characters a bit before they take me too far off course or lead me into some corner I can’t get out of, I’ve also learned to trust my story to take me where my characters need to go to become who they are meant to be—even if it takes me places I never dreamt I’d go. I’ve gotten better at plotting and planning rather than flying by the seat of my pants, but the real joy in writing for me is when my characters take over and lead me on an adventure greater than my mind could have imagined.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart if you’ve already read the book. I greatly appreciate all honest reviews. If you haven’t yet left a review and would like to do so, you can click on the Amazon link below and write a brief line or two about what you liked/or didn’t like about the book. This helps other readers find books that might appeal to them and helps us authors reach new readers. 

So what did you think? Was it too much drama for one book, or did it somehow all work together to make a worthwhile and unique story?on thin ice front cover jpg

If you haven’t read ON THIN ICE, you have one final opportunity to download it for FREE from Amazon this weekend. I won’t be renewing my KDP Select contract, so this is the last time it will be offered as a FREE download for the foreseeable future. It will be available Saturday through Monday, January 26-28th in honor of National Skating month and the US Figure Skating Championships taking place this week.

Bookmark this page and stop back this weekend to download your FREE Kindle copy from Amazon

Although Penny’s dream of Olympic Gold is derailed by life’s cruel twists of fate, she learns what all fierce competitors learn…follow your heart, and never give up.

Donate Comfort for Sandy Hook Parents and Families


Hello all, Katy Lee here with a very special way you can help the families of Sandy Hook. Our author friend and past guest, Alice J. Wisler, has just released a comforting book for parents who have lost a child called Getting Out of Bed in the Morning, and she would love to get a book in every victim’s families hands. I personally don’t believe in coincidences, and Alice’s story of her own loss and grief of losing a child–and then her new book–sprang to mind when I was wondering how I could reach out to the families. Then I learned she was one step ahead of me. Here is her post from her blog:

OOn December 14, 2012, a tragedy too awful to believe could happen, did happen. Twenty-six people were shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty children died. Six adults died.

I know the devastation of having a child die.

My cousin in Maryland asked if I’d donate one of my novels for an auction to benefit the survivors—those lost in the anguish and sorrow. I signed one of my novels and put it in a mail to her.

Later today, a Facebook friend, Lisa Schorp, wanted to know if my new book, Getting Out of Bed in the Morning: Reflections of Comfort in Heartache, could reach the hands of those devastated. Her message: To tell them that God is near.

Suddenly I realized that maybe I should act on this desire of Lisa’s.

People could sponsor my new devotional, Getting Out of Bed in the Morning: Reflections of Comfort in Heartache and a batch of books could be sent with a note to the elementary school for each family who lost a loved one.

My book is written as raw and real; I know the pain of loss. There are also passages of hope, love and comfort. This book has been called a companion through grief. Eugene Peterson writes about it:

“Believe me, you will be changed as you read this book—a book of grief and comfort. Written without easy answers, but with gritty, courageous prayer, wrestling like Jacob with God’s angel.” ~ Eugene H Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology, Recent College, Vancouver, B.C.; translator of The Message

“Hope stirs fresh in Getting Out of Bed in the Morning as Alice Wisler tenderly challenges the remnants of our grieving hearts to a healing journey. This book is a safe place to reconcile painful losses; a graceful guide through the uncharted and often complex landscape of grief and loss. Alice’s heart whispers an understanding that comes only from one who has tasted consuming heartache yet uncovered the hope of God’s sustaining grace.” ~ Jo Ann Fore, Author, Founder of

(Read more about Getting Out of Bed in the Morning here.)

If you like this idea and would like to make a donation, please send a check made out to me using the snail mail address below. If you want to stay tuned in and have updates on the amount contributed as well as when the books will be sent, etc., email me at with the subject: “Comfort to Sandy Hook”. I will send out periodic updates.

Let’s make Lisa’s wonderful suggestion come true!

Mail your donation to:
Daniel’s House Publications
201 Monticello Avenue
Durham, NC 27707 USA


Donate via Paypal on her site at:

Thank you, Alice, and thank you everyone who has helped in some way, from prayer to time and everything in between. You are blessed to be a blessing, and Merry Christmas to you all!!!

Why I’m Thankful Every Day…

Hi.  You guys know me as author J Monkeys, but as I sat down to write Saturday’s blog post, I knew that I had to do something a little different from my usual tongue-in-cheek rant because in addition to being a children’s author, I’m also a mom of very young school children.  My name is Jennifer Moncuse, and I live in Connecticut.

I live just about as far from Newtown CT as our tiny state will allow, but my twins will be starting kindergarten next year.  I have a second grader at home as well and today’s horrifying news of the heartless slaughter of innocents and innocence, practically in my own backyard, has shaken me.  I cried through some of the news coverage late this afternoon, watching on the sly because I don’t want my preschoolers to hear about children being killed at school.  How could I possibly talk with them about this in a way that they will understand when I don’t understand it myself?  I don’t think it is something that is understandable.

I had been planning to write next week’s post, due out 12-22-12, about why it was all right with me if the world ended on Friday, but I’m switching up the order and the slant because for a lot of people the world ended today.

In addition to sending my most heartfelt prayers to the families of those who lost so much today, I wanted to take a moment to be thankful for the wonderful things in my own life.

  • I’m thankful for my wonderful, healthy children, their laughter, their genuine-ness, the opportunity to teach them about the world.
  • I’m thankful for my incredible partner in this life, for his kindness, his sensitivity to others, his willingness to be responsible for 50% of everything, and for loving me just as I am.
  • I’m thankful for my family – drama and all, I wouldn’t swap any of you with anyone else, no matter the reason.
  • I’m thankful for my dear friends who really know me and accept me without reservation.

As I thought about all the other things I’m grateful for, especially the things, I decided that they didn’t really matter.  The house, the car, the job.  Maybe it’s easy for me to say that having a roof over my head doesn’t really matter, because I have the luxury of saying it under said roof.  There’s probably a lot of truth to that.  But on a night like this one, it doesn’t make the list, except as a safe haven for my kids.

Here’s my secret for today: However you understand God (as a him, a her, a them, or an it) take a moment to say “Thank you” for all the important things in your life, whatever or whomever they might be.   Hug your loved ones tightly and remember to tell them often how much you love them.  That way you’ll be ready when the world ends, no matter if it’s next Friday or more likely, some other day when you least expect it.