Friday, July 23, 2010

Five for Friday

Tropical Storm Bonnie arrived this morning, all gray and soggy. Not much of a guest, huh? It depends on how you look at, though... I guess she'll be hanging out at least through tomorrow and her effects will be lingering on Sunday. That means a weekend spent indoors.

A perfect weekend for...
  1. Writing
  2. Reading
  3. Napping
  4. A movie
  5. And, for me, signing and packing books for pre-order deliveries next week
So what are your favorite things to do on rainy weekends? Most of us prefer a nice, sunny weekend so we can finally spend time outdoors after being closed up all week working. But, at least for me, rainy days make me feel like chilling out, snuggling and having a little downtime.

Have a great weekend, sunny or not!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday Marketing - Part 2: The Mix

The, we're not talking about drinks. Or even cupcake or brownie batter. Sorry. But if you hang in there, I'll serve brownies at the end. As for the drinks...geez, peeps, it's only Monday! And not even noon! Well, maybe by the time you're reading this, in which case I hope you are enjoying your drink, whether mixed or not.

Today's mix is The Marketing Mix. Yes, with caps. Because it's that important. The Marketing Mix is the foundation of marketing. And what we'll be primarily focused on for this series of tutorials. It's what you, as a writer or blogger or businessperson or just a person who barters, really need to know. If you want to learn more after that...well, let's just start here and you can decide what you want later.

The Marketing Mix consists of five ingredients with the main ingredient - the flour or vodka or what-have-you - at the center being the Customer. Surrounding the Customer are the "4 Ps" (from the marketer's perspective) or "4 Cs" (from the customer's perspective). As you can see in my handy-dandy graphic, the 4 Ps/4 Cs revolve around the Customer, like planets in a star system. (Their orbits overlap because they often overlap. But if it's not done well, they'll crash, which I don't think is good in a star system.)
Because the Customer is the focus - the sun (if you don't like the mix analogies [or you do like mixed analogies, hahaha]).

I'll say it again, a little differently:

The World Revolves Around the Customer

The marketing world, that is. Without the customer, there is no point to anything. You MUST have a customer. You must have a reader (even if it's only your mom or bff or even yourself) or a buyer or someone you're trying to get to do something. And it's that person you're trying to make happy - you're trying to serve their desires or needs or both in exchange for something for you (money, time, brownies...).

Everything else in the mix (those little orbiting balls up there) serves the customer. And this is why marketers must look at the 4 Ps from the customer's perspective, creating the matching 4 Cs:
  • Product / Customer's Needs & Wants - This is your book or your blog or your service or widget or whatever it is you're providing to meet someone's needs and wants. It is often YOU, yourself. As the marketer, you see it as a product - a thing or action that you're offering. The customer sees it as something that will meet their needs and satisfy their desires.
  • Price / Cost - This is pretty obvious. As the marketer, you decide what price you need to charge to cover your investment and make a profit (if you so desire - in business, you desire, trust me, something has to pay the bills). The customer wants to know what it's going to cost them to have their needs and desires met by your product.
  • Place / Convenience - This is not only where your product is offered, but also where you're going to reach the customer. For the customer, it's all about how convenient it is to find (and buy) your product.
  • Promotions / Communications - This is what most people think of when they think of marketing - the ads, public relations, online marketing, social media, etc. (But you're going to be smart enough to know now that marketing is oh, so much more). If Place is where you reach customers, Promotions is how you reach customers. For customers, it's all about the communication - how they find out about your product, who tells them, how they can receive updates and additional information after they buy, customer service, etc.
So let's say you want to go see the new bloody vamp movie out, but your date (spouse, girl/boyfriend, best friend, kid, dude who hangs out at the laundromat, whatever) is not so much into fangs. But you really, really want to see this one and your date really, really wants to spend time with you. So you have a customer (your date) and a marketing mix:
  • Product -  You (not the vamp movie with that sexy hunk of meat, because that's your desire, not your customer's) / Customer's Needs & Desires - Special time with you
  • Price - Time with you / Cost - Having to see that annoying star with all that fake-looking make-up all over the screen again
  • Place - Theater / Convenience - It's at least playing in the one close-by with the wide seats
  • Promotions - You convince your date to see your movie by appealing to his/her desires. You identify all the benefits your date will get, whether real or perceived (because, really, how special is time together in a dark theater???). You reach out to your date, communicating how this product actually meets his/her needs and will exceed his/her desires. (And you do it differently than if your customer was, say, your mom or grandma.) Communication - Your date hears all the good things that are worth the exchange, you continue making your date happy with popcorn and excellent service and you follow-up by asking how he/she enjoyed the movie. If you did a good job, they won't respond by saying, "You are never picking the movie again." or "Next time, I'll go see my own movie. Alone."
I bet you've done that before, right? Convinced someone to see the movie you wanted to see? And you never knew you were marketing - using The Marketing Mix - did you? And it's all kind of common sense, isn't it?

Next time*, we'll delve into Product, which is, next to the Customer, the most important ingredient. Because if you have a crappy product, you won't get very far. And for most of you, the product is what you have the most control over.

Thanks for coming! Brownies for everyone! If you have any questions, please ask. If you're utterly confused, please let me know. Because it all makes sense to me, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything.

*Note: Next time will be in 2 weeks because next week is Virtual Release Party and Blog Tour!!! Woohoo!!!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Five for Friday

What a moron! Flake, idiot, dork, dumbass. That's me. Somehow, I totally missed Tuesday this week. Where did it go? *searches around* Huh, there it is. Right where it should be. On the calendar three days ago. And I didn't post a Teaser Tuesday. Oops.

I shall make up for it now and combine it with Five for Friday...because I'm about to miss Friday, too. Gasp! No. Skipping. Friday! Second best day of the week (I get to sleep in on Saturdays, so it's like Friday but better).

I don't know that these are really much of a tease, but I'd still like to share. And hopefully they'll get you excited for Promise. I posted the first four songs on the Promise playlist here and here. So here are the rest. And it even includes a bonus #6, you know, to make up for my Tuesday brain fart.

Except for the last one, explained below, these are all songs that I used to put me in the mood for writing and editing different scenes in Promise. There are others, but these all go with the story.

And the bonus wraps up Promise and leads you into Purpose. It's a recent release, so I didn't use it in writing Promise, but it's perfect for the two books together. And so, it's my new favorite song.

Now...could someone please tell me how to embed a playlist into blogger? I'd be eternally grateful! Thanks!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

How to Prepare for a Writing Marathon

Last week, I challenged you to a writing marathon. Thanks to everyone who participated! Not only was it a great and much needed kick-in-the-ass to get some words weaved, but it also got me back into the WIP. I've been excited to write every night this week.

For future challenges, or if you just want to have your own writing weekend, here are some tips to keep you strong and focused:

Stay hydrated! Water is good, but coffee's even better. Or tea. Or wine or beer. Whatever your fancy. Just drink LOTS of it.

A warning to all who dare to enter your precious space. Unfortunately, it doesn't deter teens who must rebel against everything! If anyone saw the apology post on my FB, that was my son. He thought it'd be funny to burst through the door and yell, "I'm disturbing you!" Sheesh. At least he apologized...

Chocolate!!! Brownies are my choice, but you can choose whatever form of the food of the gods you prefer. No, I didn't eat the whole pan. In fact, by the time I got to them, 3/4 were gone. Yep...teens.

Don't forget to cut your nails! Mine weren't quite that long...but long enough. Before I could write Sunday morning, I had to trim my nails. Because by the time I crashed Saturday night, I was typing, "I8 cdo9uoldenh'ta beolikefve yhed swaikd 6tyha6t!" Of course, that could have been because I hadn't followed rule #1 enough:

What I do not recommend:

Long-nail-typing is nothing compared to cheek-typing. And drooling may cause electrical shock. So be sure to get at least some Zzzzz's!

So there you have it. Some tips so you, too, can have a successful writing marathon.

So how do you prepare or make it through a long writing streak? Any tips you can share?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Monday Marketing - Part 1: But I Just Want to Write!

Many moons ago, I wrote about the many steps and tasks it takes to publish a book (read it here, if you care to). These were all the boring technical parts, like obtaining ISBNs, registering with Books in Print and the Library of Congress, copyrighting, selecting a printer, blah blah blah. Most (if not all) of which a publisher does for the author. When you publish yourself, then you have to do it.

I had also promised another post about the many steps and tasks it takes to market a book. And now I'm finally getting to it. But not exactly as I had expected. I know hearing the words "marketing your book" causes some of you to break out into hives. I hear from so many writers, "I would publish this myself if I had any idea how to do sales and marketing."

Guess what? You'll have to learn how anyway. So this is not about trying to convince you that you should jump on the self-publishing or indie-press bandwagon. It's about helping you sell your book (or anything else).

See...although a mainstream/traditional publisher might do some of these things for you, most require that the author takes on a good part of the marketing. In fact, many publishers invest very few dollars into debut novels, because they are unwilling to take the risk on something that might be a flop. So they leave it up to the authors to make it a win.

And what do most authors say?

"But I just want to write!"

Sorry, lovelies, but even if one of the Big Six publishing houses picks up your book, you'll still have to do most of the marketing.

Hey, hey, stop the fretting! Calm down before those ugly hives start popping up. It's really not as bad as you think. In fact, you've marketed more products than you realize.

  • Have you ever used a cleaning product that finally worked on a stubborn stain and you told everyone you know about how great it is?
  • Have you ever convinced someone to see a movie, tailoring your argument to all the reasons that particular person would like it?
  • Have you ever held a garage sale and had to determine how to price something? Where to post signs? Which newspapers you should run an ad in?
  • Have you ever recommended a book because you love it so much and convinced someone else to read it?
  • Do you, uh, ever make written contact with anyone? Verbal contact? (If you say "no" to these two, you must live under a rock, in a very dark cave, by yourself...and you wouldn't be reading this!)
Those are all parts of marketing. See! You do it all the time! And what better product can you market than your own book?!? If you can't get behind your own book and passionately talk it up, then you will have serious problems ever getting anyone to read it...including an agent.

Of course, marketing is more than this and we will get into details of the marketing machine over the next several weeks. You'll find that there are some things you realize you can do, some things you won't want to do (but you'll have to anyway) and, if you have a publisher, some things you won't have to do. But, regardless of who does it, knowledge is power and the more power you have going into a contract, the better for you. So I'm going to arm you.

For the next several weeks or months (until I run out of ideas), I'll do a Marketing Monday post. Knowing the basics of marketing is beneficial for anyone who needs anything. So please don't tune out every Monday just because you're not a writer. You might glean something you can use for that next promotion...or even the new dishwasher you need to convince hubby to get the picture. 

*In case you're wondering or even background is marketing. Marketing degree and 15+ years in the business. For a long time, I thought I was given the talent of writing to write marketing stuff. It still pays the bills...for now.

So next week I'll tell you all about the 4 P's and C's - the building blocks of marketing. Bonus points for anyone who posts any guesses in the Comments below.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

And...Time Is Up!

Whew! The writing challenge is over! And I'm WIPped! But I'm quite proud of myself for focusing so intently. I nearly hit my goal and I finally feel a sense of accomplishment when it comes to the WIP.

I have to say, knowing you were all out there was a big motivator. Especially all you first-drafters. To me, the brain dump of the first draft is like driving on an open highway, enjoying wherever the story takes you, the words flying out of the fingers at 90 miles per hour. But trying to fill in a WIP with more words is like trying to parallel-park a big semi-truck in a space meant for a VW Bug. I kept hitting up against the boundaries of the beginning and the end that were already written. So the words didn't come as quickly as they have in the past, but I am definitely happy.

So...what is my final word count?
Starting: 70,718
Ending: 81,040

And Purpose is almost done! Woot!

How did you do? Did you beat me? Comment below with your final word count. If you beat me, I'll make you a little button to put on your blog for bragging rights. :-) And let me know if you want to do this again. Maybe we can make it a "thing."

Friday, July 9, 2010

Five for Friday (With a Challenge!)

First, a word from our sponsor: Today is the last day to pre-order Promise. If you want a signed copy delivered by the release date of July 30, we must have your order by today. Order here.

Ok, now back to regularly scheduled programming: Five for Friday

Book release + dayjob + herd of teens + everyday crap = Very little writing done on Purpose 

For my new friends, Purpose is a little over 2/3 written and has been revised, rewritten, edited, proofed, etc.,...until I broke it away into a separate book from Promise. I've had to add about 31K words to make it a complete book.

I'm so close to being done...but so far away. And I really need to get it out to critters so I can stay on schedule for a (late) Fall release. I know exactly where the words are going to go and what's going to happen. I just haven't had time and focus to put it down.

So, this weekend, I'm doing a writing marathon. I wanted to go and hide out in a hotel room for the weekend, but the funds won't allow it. So here are five ways I'm going to make this happen:

  1. Lots of coffee and chocolate.
  2. Lots of food to keep the herd of teens and the man happy. This includes a big pot of something that they can warm up and eat without bothering me.
  3. A "Do Not Disturb - I'm Writing" sign on my door.
  4. Unplugging! No Facebook, no Twitter, not even email. Yikes!!
  5. A challenge! Taking a page from Anne Riley's book (not her actual book, of course - I'm not into piracy), I'm challenging my writer friends. Can you write more words than me this weekend? I've easily done 25K in a weekend before. I don't know if I can do it again - it's not as easy as during the first draft. But I plan to make some serious headway.
Want to play with me? Here's how it goes:
  • Start at 8 p.m. ET tonight (gives us time to get our ducks in a row)
  • End at 6 p.m. ET Sunday (gives us time to do other things before True Blood starts LOL)
  • Post a comment below that includes your starting word count (as of 8 tonight) and what you think I should do for retribution if someone beats me. I'll pick one or two of the best ideas and if anyone writes more than me, I'll follow through (within reason - financially, morally, legally, etc.).
  • Come back Sunday night/Monday morning to post your ending word count.
Are you in? I hope so! I need the challenge!

Can't Stop Grinning

*I started writing this on Thursday. Took me all day. Now it's technically Friday. Oh, well. Sorry I'm a little late. (Serves chocolate and cupcakes to bribe your forgiveness.)
The reviews are coming in and I can't help the huge grin, even if I look a little psychotic. But there's nothing like feeling this kind of love. Just after I posted review snippets over on the Promise website, another reviewer left a comment full of awesomesauce. See it all here.
As these have been coming in over the last few days, I can't help but think about reviews and what they mean to the creator - the artist, the writer, the actor, the musician, etc. Most say to ignore the bad ones and not let them get you down. But if you don't give them any creed, isn't it somewhat hypocritical to love the good ones? I mean, I want to print mine out and roll around in them. But it's inhibiting to our growth and development to only embrace the praise and turn our backs on the criticism.
My very first review from a total stranger was meh. 3 out of 5 stars. She liked it, but didn't love it. The review stung at first, but then I realized I had 3 choices: 1) I could fall into a pit of depression, believing that I'm only fooling myself and this was the stupidest idea. Ever. 2) I could completely dismiss it and tell everyone (including myself) all kinds of lies and insults about the reviewer, although all she did was share her opinion...and we're all entitled to one. 3) Let the sting subside, swallow the lump, stand up and be a big girl and learn and grow from it.
These aren't mutually exclusive choices. We can pass through all three, but the best final resolution is to learn and grow from the bad reviews. Often times, the parts that sting are only opinions. If many people share that opinion, then you might have something to work on.
If it's only one person, then maybe that reviewer simply doesn't like your style or your genre or your POV choice. Or maybe the reviewer picked the book up expecting something different than what they found (as happened with the above reviewer) and, as we all know, when something doesn't meet our expectations, we feel disappointed.
These are all things out of our control. We just have to realize that we can't and won't please everyone. There will always be people who don't like our writing, our stories, our characters, even ourselves. And when we can accept that, we grow. We see things with healthier perspectives. We realize that if everyone did love us, praise us, worship all that we do, we could never improve. And if we're not growing, we're stagnate...we're dying.

So take option #3. The best part about doing this is that we acknowledge the bad reviews, we improve from them and...we can guiltlessly revel in the good ones. 
Before I go roll in mine like a pig in mud, I just want to point out that this isn't just about published books getting "expert" reviews. Aren't crit partners, agents and editors just early reviewers? You get a WiP back from a critter covered in red and cringe, but you can grow from it and your book will be better for it. Rejections from agents and editors are nearly the same thing as a bad review. A couple differences: 1) you can't make changes once published; and 2) reviews are public.
We never stop feeling the fear (and reality) of rejection, my lovelies. Our success lies in the way we handle it all. So what do you do?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hanging Out Over There ------>>>

I'm hanging out at Writing Insight today! Find out more than you probably want to know about Promise, my writing...and me. See ya over there!

*Refreshments will be offered - and your very favorites. Imagine that! (We're psychic like that.) (You'll have to serve yourself, though. Sorry. I would if I could.)

Monday, July 5, 2010

I'm Back, With Mindless Ramblings

I've taken a sort-of blogging break the last couple weeks. I still posted a few times, but not as gung-ho as I had been for a while. And I really missed it. I missed you, lovely readers. I missed checking my email every ten minutes to see if you had posted a comment, wondering if you liked what I had to say, agreed, disagreed, etc. I noticed how much I missed you when I posted last week's blogfest entry and was so excited to read everyone's feedback.

But I definitely needed that break. I have some new ideas now for future posts, including a theme about marketing that I'm going to start. I think I'll do it on Mondays - Marketing Mondays. Creative, right? LOL We'll start that next week.

In the meantime, I have some sprucing up on my blog to do. I know I have an award waiting for me to claim from the generous Dawn Embers. I also need to update my new Contests & Blogfests page and my calendar. I have lots of events and fun things to add because, in case you didn't know...

It's release month!!!!!

Woohoo!!!! Throw confetti! And streamers! And balloons! And definitely pop that champagne for me! 'Cause I need it!

It's hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that Promise will be out there, for the world to read. At least...whoever feels so inclined to pick it up. We have tons of pre-orders (if you haven't ordered already and want a signed book, please get your pre-order in by Friday, July 9 - yes, this Friday!) and it's both heart-warming and nerve-wracking to know that many people want to read my book. Nearly 400 people have added it on Goodreads! That just blows my mind!

I remember the first time I let someone else read the very beginnings of Promise. At the time, I had no plans for it to be published and I was nervous as hell letting it go, even to those closest to me. It was like baring my soul to them. Yes, I still feel the same way. Many people have read and loved it, but my stomach still twists and turns at the thought of others reading it.

So it's an exciting yet anxious time in my world right now. And a very busy one. After all, I have another book to get out. The good news: that is going amazingly well. I'm running behind on the timeline, but this weekend has allowed me to make great progress. And Purpose, book two, is going to rock even harder than it did before! In fact, contrary to what I just wrote above, this one I really can't wait for you to read. I think. Ask me again when it's about to come out...

So, doing all the last-minute marketing and preparations for Promise, finishing up Purpose and trying to manage the dayjob, the herd of teenagers and The Man, the fur-faces and some semblance of a home...that's all going on in my world. Isn't there something about the lazy days of summer? Ha! Not around here.

I keep thinking that I can't wait for things to get back to normal. But then I'm reminded that this is my normal - my new normal. This is how it's going to be until that one day when my writing will support us all and I can just focus on that. The day I decided to start writing fiction again, the old normal blew out the window in the storm of creating, never to be seen again.

How about with you? Are you enjoying lazy days or are they just as crammed full as mine? Have you had to adapt to a new "normal" in your world? Tell me all about it. Because it'd be really nice to know I'm not alone right now. ;-)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Share Your Darlings Blogfest

It's another blogfest! Yay!!! I love these, if you haven't noticed. They're fun to participate in, you get to know other writers and I always find it interesting how so many writers can tackle the same theme in so many different ways.

Of course, this one isn't written around a theme. It's simply about sharing those scenes we love but had to cut from our stories because they didn't pull their weight in moving things along. This is from Promise (which comes out in July, by the way...and you can pre-order here... Oops! Sorry! But it's my blog so I can throw in a little self-promo if I want. Haha). Anywaaaayyyy...onto the set-up.

In the first two chapters (found here), you meet Alexis and she meets Tristan, who is seemingly perfect in every way (on the surface, anyway). For a variety of reasons, Alexis has a hard time trusting anyone, but she really wants to trust Tristan...even when her mother doesn't. When mom goes out of town for a weekend, things start heating up between Alexis and Tristan. I wrote this whole glorious weekend they spent together - sweet and lovely and a dream-come-true for Alexis.

It gave some character insight, but, alas, this part, in particular, just didn't do enough. There's a little of it still in the book, but not the whole, sweet thing. This scene takes place on Sunday, the last day of their time without mom breathing down her back. Tristan is about to take her on a motorcycle ride - until now, she'd only been on the bike for a couple blocks at a time.

“You’ll want to put on jeans and real shoes. No flip-flops for this ride,” he said to me. I hurriedly changed and pulled my hair back.

We cruised the streets of Cape Heron, and then headed for I-75. Holy crap! What am I thinking? I momentarily panicked as I realized I had absolutely no control over my situation. I had put my life into his hands. I squeezed my eyes shut and held on tightly, my muscles tense like a taut rubber band as the wind rushed against my face and the sounds of cars and trucks seemed way too close. Exhaust fumes and the faint smell of hot rubber filled my nose. My knuckles were white by the time we exited the highway and I breathed a sigh of relief that we survived.

Now that it felt safe to keep my eyes open, I noticed we were headed to a barrier island. At the slower speed and with less traffic, the ride was spectacular, especially once on the island. The sun shone brightly in the clear October sky and I could smell the oily warmth rising off the pavement, as well as the salty sea air and meat on the grill from a distant restaurant. I leaned over and held onto Tristan, resting my head against his shoulder, as we cruised parallel to the Gulf of Mexico, enjoying the view. He stopped the bike in a small beach parking lot and we sat there, looking over the sugary sand and steel-blue water, watching as pelicans dive-bombed for their food. A couple of dolphins jumped and twisted in the air, playing with each other.

“Nice, huh?” Tristan asked.

“Perfect,” I breathed. I was still close against him, my arms wrapped around his waist. He held my hands in front of him.

“Let’s take a walk and stretch our legs, then I’ll take you to dinner at a cool little place I found a couple weeks ago.”

We held hands as we walked along the beach and I couldn’t help the smile that was pasted on my face. Every time I looked at Tristan, he, too, was grinning.

“You like it here, don’t you?” I asked.

He looked down at me. “I like being with you. It makes me…happy.”

“Me, too.”

He squeezed my hand. “Hungry?”

I shrugged. I could be whatever he wanted me to be at that moment. As long as it meant more time with him. “Sure.”

He took me to a little hole-in-the-wall tiki bar and grill for dinner. It literally had a big hole in the wall – one side was open to the outside. When we walked in, several people – employees and customers alike – gave us a warm hello, like we were old friends. A couple of TVs silently displayed news and sports, while Jimmy Buffet sang “Margaritaville” from a boom box. Painted oars, lobster baskets and other boating and beach paraphernalia decorated the three solid walls. Tristan led me to a faded wooden booth by the wide opening, holding his hand out for me to take a seat. He slid in next to me, instead of sitting on the other side, and put his arm around me, holding me close. I warmed inside, totally content. From where we sat, we could see a canal outside the restaurant lead west about two hundred yards to the Gulf. A couple of boats pulled up, their owners and mates coming for drinks and dinner.

“Know what you want?” Tristan asked after we studied the stained paper menu for a few minutes.

“Hmm…I think the shrimp combo.”

He stood up to place our order at the bar and I took the opportunity to use the bathroom. When I came back to the table, I had to stifle a giggle. He held a purple crayon in his hand, drawing something on the white paper tablecloth, like a little kid. When I looked, I realized it was me, drawn from memory.

“Nice,” I murmured.

“Yeah, well, sorry you’re purple.” He chuckled.

I glanced at the two other crayons on the table.

“At least I’m not green.”

He laughed.

“Purple’s good. It’s my favorite color,” I added.

“Ah. Good to know.”

I drew him next – a stick figure. It was the best I could do, I told him. He laughed and hugged me, apparently forgiving the fact that I wasn’t multi-talented like him. We played a few games of tic-tac-toe and hangman – he beat me at the first and I beat him at the latter – while we waited for our dinner. The bartender brought our food to us.

“Oh, now, hold on a minute. We can’t ruin that,” she said when she saw Tristan’s crayon drawing of me. She put our food down on the next table and quickly replaced the paper tablecloth with a blank slate. She took our old one and disappeared with it. She brought back my drawing, cut out in an oval from the rest of the tablecloth, and handed it to me, her eyes crinkling at the sides with a smile. “Here you go, hon.”

The people there were quite a bit older than us, but friendly with everyone who walked in. It was apparently a popular gathering place for the locals. When Tristan told them we’d recently moved to the area, they told us about good and bad beaches and restaurants and the best places to go on a boat or a motorcycle. Their stories were humorous and we laughed a lot.

That evening I learned what it was like to feel normal. In fact, I forgot for a while that I even had any weird quirks. Nobody treated me like an outsider and I didn’t feel the need to make myself blend into the scenery. I didn’t worry about my wall or who I couldn’t trust. For once, I was completely at ease.

After we finished eating the best seafood I’d had since moving there, Tristan moved over to the other side of the table so he could have clean, blank paper. He went to work with a red crayon and drew a portrait of the bartender/waitress. When he was done, he threw some money on the table and held his hand out for me to go. I quickly wrote “Thank you!” by his drawing, then walked out with him, arms around each other’s waists. I felt like the heroine in a movie…with a “happily-ever-after” ending, of course. I ignored the poke in the back of my mind – the one that wanted to tell me that my ending could never be happy.