Momentum…and free Kindle run results

It doesn’t take a hard push to get a ball to roll downhill. It also doesn’t take a hard stop to get a ball on flat ground to stop moving altogether.

The past six months have been tough for me. It only took a few errors on my new release to drop me to the ground. Honestly and humbly I admit with all the reads, rereads, and editing I still found errors in my newest novel. The cloud I’d ridden seemed to pour rain, sleet, and hail dissipating as it dropped me from the sky. What was quite frustrating for me was some of these errors were not found in my original paperback proof. Which may have meant we pulled an old file when fixing some errors or which meant something else I didn’t understand. I had no idea what happened. But I was so incredibly disappointed. I am a perfectionist. I don’t expect perfection from anyone other than myself. And with high anxiety living in my core each day, it was a tough blow for me to accept I’d made errors. But I am also humble and willing to face the music.

Only, my instrument felt broken. My daughter had been bullied at school again. I decided I was going to write the story parents need to read. The story so many children in schools face today. Then I was asked to write a different version. I outlined, I plotted, I sank deeper. I needed a lift, but I was focused on failure. I’d failed with the release of my novel because I released it with errors I didn’t know existed. I, a mother who would do anything for any child, couldn’t fix my daughter. I couldn’t make people like her. I couldn’t make people understand her quirkiness. I couldn’t even get anyone to appreciate her differences. And I also couldn’t get the schools to care enough to make big but simple changes. Each day for several months, I sat in my car in the afternoon pick-up line at two schools, and I read 34 Seconds out loud to find errors. There were truly only a few. A few which still sucked my will to get fixes done and published.

In the spring, I finished my new edits, sent them in and fixed my ebook and paperback documents with the help of a fabulous formatter who never made me feel less than human for admitting I’d made mistakes.

But it wasn’t until we decided as a family we were willing to walk away from our home before I began to feel better. From our home. From friends and family. To give our daughter a chance to be loved and accepted, we decided to move to another state. Another school district. Another neighborhood. More options. More opportunity. The day we decided to change out lives, a new light shined in my soul. I couldn’t wait to get back to projects I’d started and left unfinished. I couldn’t wait to write more. I couldn’t wait to tell the world about 34 Seconds again. I could forgive myself for being human. I could walk away from my mistakes. And oddly enough, I found it easier to walk away from people we know who had been hurting our children with hurtful words and physical actions. People I could no longer talk to because they never said sorry to us. I could even forgive, knowing we all had a new light shining inside us all.

 

This past week, I decided to celebrate my acceptance of myself, of my forgiveness, and run a freebie on Kindle for my novel. I felt I’d fixed what needed fixing…and don’t get me wrong, these errors were rather simple, like the word ‘to’ missing within a sentence, the word ‘silent’ used instead of ‘silence.’ And they were few. But I also added or deleted a few things while I was making fixes, but nothing which changes Nikki’s story.

So I thought I would have fifty or so books downloaded. And I hoped maybe of those fifty maybe five people would read it, leave an honest review, I’d learn something new about my writing and move forward. I wanted to celebrate me by getting my words out again. I wanted to tell people I’ve been rather silent about this book I wrote, but here it is. You can have it.

What I didn’t know was on the first day forty-eight would be downloaded.

Forty-eight.

I scheduled a five-day free run. At first, I wondered if I should have only done one or two days. Kindle gives us authors enrolled in a certain program five-day runs every 90 days our books are in the program. I had scheduled all five of my days in one run. My reason was because my third 90-day run in this KDP (meaning it’s a Kindle only exclusive novel) is up at the end of June, and I thought I might try to get it out to other venues this summer.

Anyway, I really thought on day one I’d hit what I thought I may get for all five days and my other days would end up being wasted. I’ve been swamped. I didn’t really advertise this free run. I didn’t contact any bloggers to help me. I didn’t ask for reviews or contacts. I posted on my Facebook pages, I have two. And I posted on Twitter. On day two, trying not to be annoying to those who see me daily, I posted in a few places. I tried not to include links everywhere. That can be annoying. However, if I had friends in multiple groups and on my Facebook page, some of my friends may have seen more than one or two posts at once coming from my page and a Kindle Free Group. But my goal here was to quietly get the word out, get friends to share with their friends, and not annoy folks by blasting a picture of my cover all over their feeds.

On day two, sixty-nine units were downloaded on Kindle for free. Wow, I thought.

On day three, fifty-nine were downloaded. Still I was trying very hard not to post too much about it, and I started thinking the downloads peaked on day two, I should have run a three-day free run. I will do it again one day, so I’m trying to learn from my own process. What works and what doesn’t.

Day four was a Friday.  And it was the best of the first four days. Eighty-one units were downloaded. At this point, I was tracking where my novel was on the Top 100 list of free books on Kindle. Without sharing the link, I’d share a photo of where the book was. That day, mine was rising close to Colleen Hoover’s Finding Cinderella. There was a point when mine passed hers and I gave myself a silent high five. About a second later, I reminded myself Finding Cinderella was a novella about two and a half years old and might have even been free from the get-go. I read it when it was released in one sitting with two cups of coffee. So there I was laughing because I was proud my book had passed a novella which had probably been housed on that same list for years. For years. Which means people download volumes of that novella daily. Hey,  I was still proud.

By the time I went to bed Friday night, there had been 258 downloads over the four days. I was very surprised. No, I was actually shocked.

Saturday I woke thinking about the weekend and how I might expect a few downloads but having the promotion end on a Saturday probably wasn’t a great idea. I imagine people sitting at their desks during the week downloading free books. But on the weekends, I am certain those people are hiking, shopping, living, or at least reading their weekly finds from their work weeks.

A funny thing happened on Kindle that day. My charting page was only set to show up to June 10th. Every few hours I’d refresh the page to see if I had any downloads only to see nothing new. It was noon before I realized I hadn’t been looking at Saturday’s date, June 11th. Once I fixed the settings, I noticed about sixty copies had been downloaded. Laughing at myself, I went on with my day.

Sometime on Saturday 34 Seconds peaked at #27, #37, and #37 on the Top 100 Free list in Romance, Contemporary Fiction, and Women’s Fiction respectively. I don’t even know where Colleen Hoover’s two and a half year old novella was at that point. I was proud. I shared a few pictures, laughing at my guitar cover mixed up with covers of people without shirts and later mixed up with people who were clothed. I was simply happy.

When I woke on Sunday morning, I learned 246 copies were downloaded on Saturday.

When I started this free five-day run, I questioned whether I’d wasted five days. When I failed to do any upfront promotions, I wondered if it would do anything for the book. By the end of the five days, 503 had been downloaded. Five hundred and three copies of my novel are out into the world. My original hope was to have fifty out there and hope for ten percent of those people to review….which is a very high hope. Now if I am lucky enough to get that ten percent review my novel, I could have over fifty reviews. It’s still a high hope.

More importantly, it’s built my momentum. Not only can I accept that I am only human, I can also believe in humanity.

It’s truly been a rough six months for me. But this week we start our new beginnings. We close on our new home in Arizona this week. And there are over five hundred copies of my novel sitting out into the world. There is even a copy in India. Some will read it. Some won’t. I’ve picked up several novels I haven’t read yet. Some I’ll never read. It’s the nature of being human. Sometimes we support with numbers. Sometimes we support with reviews. Sometimes we support with coffee and a hug. This weekend I felt a hug from every person who took the time to click.

Thank you.

For being here. For being you. Thank you!

 

34 Seconds Free on Kindle

Back in the fall, I released my first book, 34 Seconds. Editing and Formatting were not a breeze, but the people I chose to work with are simply amazing. Just a month after it was released, I found a few things that needed attention within the book. Only a few…maybe five. Tiny things. But I’m a perfectionist, so I had to read the whole book again and get those fixes in.

In the meantime, I spent much of the school year sitting in meetings as my daughter was injured, teased, and bullied at school. Unfortunately promoting my book took back seat.

Now I’m kicking off. 34 Seconds is available.

For today and the next few days, 34 Seconds is free on Kindle.

I’d very much appreciate copies flying onto your devices. You don’t need a Kindle, just the app, to get your copy. I’d also very much appreciate a review once you have read it. Authors live on coffee, cashews, and reviews.

Grab your copy here.

Have a beautiful sunny day!

Stella

34seconds_WIP9stella

34 Seconds, Stella Samuel

Nikki and Will fell in love a lifetime ago in Deltaville, Virginia. Now living in Colorado with her family, Nikki is invited to attend Will’s wedding back in Virginia where she finds her past staring her in the face.
Will never wanted a wife, and he broke Nikki’s heart long ago. Nikki knew what she wanted: a strong, happy marriage and children, a future. She found those things when she married Chris, and she and Will managed to grow their friendship after heartbreak.

A year after the wedding, Nikki is faced with her painful past again. She soon discovers she must find the strength to help Will on his own personal journey. In thirty-four seconds, she sees him slip from her life forever. Watching Will cross over to his fate, her past collides with her present, and Nikki learns she’s never been in control of her own destiny. Her own journey back to her family in Colorado becomes one of self-discovery. With the help of Will’s voice to carry her across the country, Nikki must decide how she will move forward.

 

 

Be the difference in schools today

This is an edited version of an email I sent out to administrators of our schools. I will leave out which district is currently ours and instead show comparisons from around the United States. This isn’t hard research. This is simply using Google to help our family decide where our children will fit most. If you have a bullied child, have you researched other schools, other districts, or helped your school to stand up and stand out amongst the crowd?

Our local high school has lost yet another student who may have passed through your doors at one point to suicide. Recently in a local K-8 school, a child brought a knife to school and threatened another student with words I can’t imagine my children hearing in even a fictional setting just yet. As I understand it, this child was given three days suspension. The message here, over and over, is kids can abuse rules and their consequences will be minimal. The silent message is consequences will vary from case to case and students don’t know common sense rules around cruelty, nor do they know definitive consequences. As a parent, I just learned this year the police can create no contact contracts and ticket offending students. As a parent, I’m very upset I didn’t know this before. Maybe these three boys who have violated my daughter over and over again could have been dealt with sooner. Maybe my daughter could have been helped sooner. Maybe the children who have decided to end their own lives could have known there are answers out there in the real world. Maybe they’d still be here if they knew they could keep other students away from them. I’m truly at the point where I no longer truly care if you read what I’ve written below, but I will share it with you in case you’d like to be the start of change.

 

Be the change your school district needs.

We are moving after the end of the school year. I have to give my daughter a chance to survive. I have to put her in a place where pro-active is the norm rather than being in a reactive school. Two of our local schools have shown us the support we never had at our first school. But this problem of bullying and teasing and intolerance within schools is so much larger than you or your school. In middle school this year, our daughter has been teased more because there are families from her first elementary school who just joined public schools for middle school. She’s been told the kids “know” she was expelled from in 4th grade. As a good student and a great kid, our daughter didn’t even know what the word expelled meant. And it’s certainly not true. We left by choice after she was punched in the mouth by a student who had bullied her all year. The decision to leave followed the school’s decision to dish out zero consequences time after time with this student and their decision to continue to keep them in the same classroom. In middle school, I’ve had to explain to my very innocent daughter what a blow job is because kids were teasing her when she was eating a carrot. The school’s response was to suggest I cut her carrots so she wasn’t eating a whole carrot. If someone had called and said, “Look, eating a whole carrot is loud, distracting, and bothersome to some people, could you cut them into bite sized pieces for her,” I’d have been happy to oblige. But instead, the school reacted to the poor behavior of others by asking us to change her eating habits. This is a problem we’ve faced time after time; adults reacting instead of taking a proactive approach to bullying, teasing, and intolerance. She was pushed over and over into a science lab table and the consequence was for you to move her to a new locker in a different room. She was violated at the school bus and sexually harassed on the school bus, with video proof, and the only thing left for me to do was to drive her to school myself to keep her safe. Last year in 5th grade, she was kicked by three boys in the head, in the chest, and on her legs. These same boys threw ice at her in the winter months. They talked to her about their penises and her vagina on the school playground. The only thing I know these boys had to do was write an essay as a result of kicking her.

This past year, two eleven-year-old students committed suicide in Fort Collins, Colorado. Their reason? Bullying. They didn’t belong. They didn’t fit in. They didn’t see a way out. Our district almost lost an eleven-year-old this year as well to suicide due to incessant bullying. His mother reached out to social media and to the news stations. The district did nothing. We tend to react for a quick moment and move on quickly to the next state testing forum or the next big sporting event. But we don’t actually deal with this problem. My daughter is slated to go to our local high school in two years where we lost four students to suicide in one year. Can you imagine the fear I have for my daughter in a place where the care for these kids is only localized to their issue once they are gone?

I implore you to be the schools who start change within your district. A proactive program could create a school which feels safer from the get go for these students who face hatred and intolerance each day. As a parent, it took me a long time to realize reaction is not what we need. We left our first school with the hope that our new school would react better than the staff before had reacted. We were right. The team reacted in ways we’d never seen before. We were happy. The students had simple consequences if they harmed or were cruel to my daughter. This was new to us. Before, we were told our eight year old needed to assert herself more. We went from the bullying our daughter faced being her fault to a kind staff who cared about her, her feelings, and her safety. It was a world of change for us. Positive change. But after two more years, it’s not enough. It just isn’t. We can’t only react and expect students to know what our expectations of them are. In PE and Health classes this year, she was pushed into walls during a game several times day after day. The students used the game as an excuse to harm her. Each day she would tell the teacher, and each day these students were told to be more careful or simply that it was mean. Each day these students knew the teacher would only react with a verbal consequence and a simple reminder of their behavior being unkind. But that was all. There seemed to never be any set expectations that such behavior wouldn’t be tolerated. These kids did this day after day for nine weeks. The nine weeks prior, she was shamed in the locker room for not needing a bra at the age of eleven. Imagine being naked in a room full of peers and hearing body shaming because you are who you are.

This year I decided schools in general need to be proactive. For years, I’ve called the district over and over to get a definitive plan to tackle bullying in schools. For years, I’ve been told it’s up to the schools themselves to set a plan and put in place a program. Each school is different. Each school is responsible for creating a program or having a plan according to the district.

Here is a cut screenshot of our district. I was going to post other Colorado school districts to show zero results, but from Denver all the way up to Fort Collins and all in between, this was the only one I found with zero results. I’ll keep the district name private in hopes they won’t be the sole site with zero results much longer. Trust it is a school district’s site. And all others I search locally had at least government resources or community organizations.

sd0

I encourage you to search your district’s website.

There are zero resources available for parents or for students. Imagine being a student with the technology the district offers, an iPad or a Chromebook, and looking for help from the district. This is what they would find. Oddly enough, I was prepared to share the one document the district provided when I began my searches months ago, but it is no longer there. This search used to yield one link to one document which was 1.5 pages and titled, Code of Conduct. It was a document of rules, expectations of conduct for students on school grounds or at school events. It didn’t address kindness, only events such as property damage, substance abuse, and weapons on school grounds. For whatever reason, with several weeks of school left for kids who are looking for help, even those expectations are no longer available. I even searched ‘code of conduct’ with zero results.

In comparison, look at this screenshot when I type bullying into a search bar on a different district’s site:

Screenshot (1)
1870 results for bullying when searched on a district site

There are over ten pages of links, almost 1900 results in that search for one district. Some of these links go to teacher pages. Some go to individual schools. Some go to government sites such as Stopbullying.gov. Some of those ten pages of links don’t actually address bullying at all but might link to a teacher who addresses bullying on their page.

If you follow some Arizona districts, you’ll see they teach zero tolerance in their curriculum. I know our middle school does peer mediation. But I only know because my daughter has done it and told me about it. I didn’t find any resources about it on any website. I know our elementary school has a focus on character traits. But I never know what trait is the focus for each month. The last tweet from each school was fairly recent and usually only about evacuation drills, weather conditions, and honor roll. But often times, communication is left to a weekly newsletter with one or two focus points, usually academic. For a child who is struggling in today’s social world with the technology at hand, they have no tweets, no Facebook posts, no newsletters, and no websites that represent them and their struggles. There is virtually zero communication on tolerance and acceptance, yet every school seems to want to connect to parents and students with the convenience of social media. Utilize it.

There are simple things your schools can do to assist parents who are struggling with this horrible epidemic in schools. There are websites available to you, to students, and to parents. Here’s how one district shares some of their resources outside of the ten pages of links when one simply searches the word bullying on their site.

http://www.lesd.k12.az.us/academicresources.cfm?subpage=1409434

http://www.lesd.k12.az.us/academicresources.cfm?subpage=1408270

http://www.lesd.k12.az.us/academicresources.cfm?subpage=1408482

Another district:

https://www.dysart.org/sites/default.aspx?pgid=404

Go above and beyond. Look at these PDFs from one district. Not only are they pretty and colorful, but they are long and informative. From a family who has felt totally and completely alone for years, I cried when I saw these documents. I didn’t learn anything new. I didn’t feel relief from change. But for the first time, my daughter was truly validated. Not only does someone in this district care, as I know you all do, but they created an environment which shows they care enough to offer resources to parents and to children. The number one issue with a bullied child is often that they feel alone. I see these PDFs and know my daughter could feel as if there is hope; there is someone out there with a plan. I’ve always said I can’t control how parents treat or parent their children at home. Many of these kids won’t change. It’s what they know. It’s what they are taught. But we can give them expectations while they are under our care in schools. And we can hope they will take those teachings with them to their homes and throughout their lives. We are not completely helpless because a child has a different upbringing. If someone came into my home, I have every right to ask them not to stand on my couch or not to swing from my ceiling fans. You and schools and districts have every right to lay out your expectations with your students as well as their parents. You have every right to demand a cruelty-free and respecting, tolerant environment within your walls. It needs to start with communications home to all families. It can carry on with constant communications via social media, email blasts for older students, and resources such as the ones I have shared so no child feels left in the dark by their schools.

For families:

http://www.dvusd.org/cms/lib011/AZ01901092/Centricity/Domain/3686/FAMILY%20GUIDE.pdf

http://www.dvusd.org/cms/lib011/AZ01901092/Centricity/Domain/3686/English%20FAMILY%20NEWSLETTERS%20%20.pdf

For teachers: http://www.dvusd.org/cms/lib011/AZ01901092/Centricity/Domain/3686/TEACHER%20GUIDE.pdf

Get on your school’s website and search some key words like bullying and suicide. For my district, there is nothing….nothing….there. No school needs to own the responsibility of a child suicide. But as a school or district, is it really that hard to offer links for children and parent to visit when they feel so alone?

https://www.stopbullying.gov/index.html

http://www.thebullyproject.com/

http://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/info-facts.asp

Pacer does a walk each year in October, I think. You can get students and parents involved. You can raise funds for an anti-bullying program in your school with a simple 5K walk/run. They sell T-shirts for the event on their page. You can sell them in your school and ask kids to wear them to recognize the larger issue at hand in every school.

http://www.pacerkidsagainstbullying.org/kab/

Would it be so hard to make these resources available to the families in the district or in your schools? For my daughter, for my family…please make a proactive change. I never thought I’d have to talk to my eleven-year-old about suicide. I never thought suicide would be something that would affect middle schoolers. I wonder if the two families in Fort Collins thought the same thing before they buried their children. In fairness, here is the link to the bullying search Poudre Valley offers since I’ve only offered Arizona school links so far. They also have about ten pages of links when I typed in the word bullying. This is a district in Northern Colorado.

https://www.psdschools.org/search/site/bullying

Another Colorado district…

http://www.sd27j.org/site/Default.aspx?PageType=6&SiteID=4&SearchString=bullying

And another…

JeffCo

Large school districts around the country:

Newark, NJ 35K students

Fairfax, VA 183K students

Portland, OR 512 results

LA, CA over 650K students, over 3500 results

If you simply clicked, I hope you see the big difference between our district which has zero results when I typed in the word bullying and even just one resource for a child or a parent. It doesn’t cost anything to link. It doesn’t take any administrative time to show our children how much we support every stage they are in while in school.

What does your school district show when you type in the word bullying into their search bar?

We are not coming back to this school district. I owe my daughter a chance. And I know despite the fact that she’s been punched in the mouth, kicked in the head and chest, pushed into walls and down stairs, teased, told she doesn’t belong, reminded how much she’s hated….I know she doesn’t have it as bad as others. I know it can be so much worse. But I owe her a chance to be a survivor. I owe her a place where they not only care but are proactive in caring. I’m not naïve enough to think she won’t be teased or even bullied. My kids will be the new kids again. They will face struggles wherever they go, and it’s my job to teach them to cope. But without schools who have resources known to parents and students, without a proactive plan in place to stop this horrid behavior, nothing in her life will change. I don’t know what we will face in our future. But we are lucky enough to be able to live anywhere we’d like.

I share this information with you in hopes that other kids in any district, some I know are fighting the same struggles, can find the hope they need. I hope you can see the huge differences between what I, a parent, can find in our district, a big fat ‘Your Search Yielded No Results,’ and pages and pages of options. I hope it angers you that the district you represent cares so little they offer zero solutions or resources for parents or students.

When life falls apart at home for a child – a death, a divorce, a deployment of a parent, abuse- often times the only stability that child might have is at school. And if they are different or depressed and not fitting in, they look to you all who might help them at the level you can. But if they are lying in their bed at night crying, searching your school website or the district website for help, for a light, for anything….they are only reminded that no one cares for them. True or untrue, it’s the message that is sent from a district with zero results. And it’s heartbreaking.

I hope to never read about bullying or suicides because of school bullying again. I hope you can force simple but impactful changes. In any district across this great nation, be the school who forces great change. Just start somewhere.

Stella Samuel

May 2016

 

Please Remember

I write a lot of things. I share many but not all. I’m a writer. As an author, I imagined my website to be about writing. My process, my fails, my gains. I want to share more about publishing. But the past six months of my writing time has been spent fighting the same fight we’ve fought each school year. I research laws. I research girl power. I research how to build self-confidence in children. I try to build up other parents going through the same challenges we are. I try to tell as many children as I can how much they matter. To me, to my daughter, to their families, to this fight.

Yesterday I learned someone stopped fighting.

My heart is broken again.

We are going on six years now of my oldest daughter dealing with cruelty on school grounds. Threats, teasing, unkind words, gossip, violence against her, complete intolerance of who she is, and schools turning heads, forcing changes upon innocent children instead of pushing real consequences to offenders. It’s a non-stop circle. And I know, as I’ve known for years, we are not the only ones going through this.

I learned yesterday of a young boy in a different state. His parents will be burying him soon. I sat at my window a looked at the spring snow falling from the Colorado sky and wondered if the storm hovering over my roof would be over theirs on the day they bury their son. Would they have rain? Would they have snow? Would dark skies cover their world, matching the feelings of their sunken hearts? I don’t know this boy. I don’t know his parents. But I breathe for all of them today. I stood in my daughter’s bedroom last night and touched her forehead. I rubbed scar she is teased about. I felt the warmth of her skin. I watched her chest rise and fall with each breath she took. Gratitude washed over me. She is two years younger than this boy.

Outside appearances tell me this boy came from a loving family. He was a good looking young man. He played sports. All the comments I see about him are kind. He was liked. He was loved. I can’t ever expect to know any more about him. But I can believe no one who mattered to him wanted to live days like today; waking without him. Missing his morning routine. His morning grumbles about getting up and moving. His morning smiles. Maybe he was a joker, making members of his family laugh during breakfast. Maybe he was like my daughter, silly, dancing whenever he felt movement enter his body. I wonder if the kids at his school all cried. I wondered if some laughed. I wondered if the cruel people in his community, even if they are few, knew how difficult they made his life. Do they know today the words they spoke to him, to lift themselves up for a brief moment, to get a laugh from others, to bring him down, are the same words which killed him? Will they think twice before speaking cruel words to someone else?

I ask in his honor, today, you remind your children, yourself, your friends and family to be kind. It isn’t hard at all. Keep the mean thoughts you have for someone to yourself. Better yet, ask yourself why you feel they need to hear why you think they aren’t worth walking on Earth any more than you do. My daughter hears things like, “You suck because you’re short.” “You have Ebola.” “Ewww, gross, it’s you.” “You know you don’t belong here….in this class, in this school, in this world. You know that don’t you?” Those are just a small sampling of things she’s heard, things she hears every day. Class after class. Many days, several times a day.

How many years does a child need to hear these things? A recent bus chant about my daughter involved several children replying to one boy saying her name and the word ‘likes.’ The other children would then reply to him with words like penises, vaginas, butt holes. For twenty minutes on the bus, she had to listen to several kids chat things about her that were not only untrue but also vulgar. There were also several kids on the bus who said nothing. Kids who didn’t participant in the chant but who also didn’t speak up to tell others to stop being cruel.

How much can one child endure? As I rub the scar on my daughter’s head, I will away her pain. I pray she will come home from school the next day with the strength to do it all again. Each day she comes home sad because of what children are saying about her, to her. I try to remind her of how wonderful I know she is. I try to pull her thoughts into a place where she is reminded of our love for her. Reminded of her friends. She does have them. She’s in a good little group of kids who love her and support her. They laugh with her, they appreciate her silly antics. They don’t have fear of being who they are. And many of them have their own stories of not being accepted by others. I’m happy she has that. I’m certain most children who are bullied have friends. I’m sure they have families who love them. What they don’t often have is that light at the end of the tunnel. I often don’t see that light myself. As an adult, I know my daughter can get through this. I know these kids won’t matter in her life when she’s in college. When she’s an adult working on her career, having a family, loving her own children. But I also know the pain she feels each day will be with her. Always. The hurtful words, the unnecessary teasing, the feelings of being not worthy of living, the reminders that she was not only disliked, but truly hated for no reason will live in her heart and in her mind forever. As parents, we can support, love, offer ideas and reminders, and hope our children will always be here to fight another day.

This boy I know about gave up his fight this week.

I also know of a girl in our own community who gave up her fight this school year. She was my daughter’s age.

Every day my inbox is filled with the pain of others. Parents asking the world to support their children via social media. Many of the stories are eerily familiar. Earlier this week, I read about a girl who had switched schools once already, was smaller than her peers, had red hair and freckles, and was teased relentlessly with both schools doing nothing. One school’s response was that it was not gbullying she was dealing with, it was just kids being kids. Kids being mean.

When did boys will be boys and kids being kids begin to mean simply deal with it, they aren’t bullying, they are simply being mean. When did meanness become acceptable in an environment such as school where adults are abundant? Which adults are accepting simply being mean as something our children should endure? I wouldn’t allow someone to be mean within my own home. I wouldn’t have to tolerate it if I were in a grocery store or at a public park. Why do our children have to endure kids who are mean? Why aren’t the adults surrounding these children teaching expectations of kindness? Why aren’t schools following the same social expectations we expect within our communities? Within our homes?

I’ve researched several states and their Boards of Education websites lately. I live in the state of Colorado. The state site basically lays out the definition of bullying and supplies the ACT the state wrote offering grants to districts who apply for anti-bullying education. I’m not a lawyer, but what I read I understood to mean the district must apply, and to be granted, they must have valid and good reason to apply. With or without the anti-bullying grant money, the districts need to form policies which follow the law of ensuring schools don’t allow bullying as defined by the law. I’ve gone around in circles reading this, and as a parent, an author, a non-lawyer, I took it all to mean the state has defined bullying and expects districts to not allow bullying within their schools. Districts then take the definition of bullying and expect their schools to create a school-wide policy and procedure as it pertains to the state’s definition of bullying. The buck is passed from state to district to school. Meaning, each school is responsible for how seriously they will take this serious problem within our schools across our nation. One school may include anti-bullying within their curriculum. One school may only react to each case as they arise. One school may have high expectations, one may not. It seems to be luck of the draw. Within the state and within the district. Other state sites, like Hawaii and New Jersey, seem to have a better display, at least, of their expectations as well as resources for parents and for children. I believe both of these state also include specific bullying such as LGBT students. New Jersey has a detailed plan, a task force, case studies, and more available to the public on their site. Arizona has expectations, laws, and student/parent resources listed on their Department of Education website. New Jersey and Arizona are the most inclusive state sites I’ve seen. I’ve also found at least two districts within Arizona who include anti-bullying as a curriculum within classrooms.

I understand why each state is a bit different. It’s one of the great things about our country. I may even begin to understand why districts might differ. Cultures across a state might differ, but the expectations should always remain the same. This starts with people. What I fail to understand is why school policies might differ within a district. Why would one school tolerate something another school mere miles away works very hard to prevent?

It comes down to people. The responsible adults we leave in charge of our children while we are away. The adults who need to begin teaching simple values which may not be taught at home. I hate to put parenting in charge of teachers and staff at schools. I’ve said for years the one thing we cannot control is how people parent their children.

We don’t need to teach all values at school. One family may have different values they’d like their children to follow and practice in their lives. But basic kindness shouldn’t have to be taught with ferocity at a middle school age. These are the kids who have been taught basic kindness. They know what is right and what is wrong. They know saying cruel things about someone or to someone is wrong. They are at an age where making the correct choice isn’t always easy for them. This is where they need the guidance most. These kids need to understand how their cruel behaviors affect children, their peers, for years to come.

Years many kids don’t even get to face. I started this out by talking about this beautiful young soul who took his life earlier this week. The pressures of unkindness were too much for him. It is often too much for many. My own daughter has been told she doesn’t belong…not only in her classroom, where she is legally welcome but also in this world according to this girl who greets my daughter each day with this sentiment. How many more times before my daughter begins to believe it? How many times, days, weeks, or years did this young man have to listen to words like that before he no longer believed he belonged anywhere?

Don’t give up.

Be kind.

It matters.

Be the reason someone smiles today.

Be a reason someone is reminded they are wonderful.

I won’t give up

Every winter I go through this binding negativity. This year I’ve tried to tell my family how much I need to chase the sun. I don’t think they truly get it. These past two weeks have been especially hard because I was sick, we were well, then my kids got sick. I woke in the middle of the night to find my husband in bed with me coughing something awful. I felt bad for him. He spent a week in feet of snow in another country far from home. But the winter negative pushed me to thinking get that shit out of this house. We don’t need it here – not after the week of daily puking we’ve had. Our son woke this morning coughing as well. Our daughter is missing her fifth day of school. She can’t seem to make it through twenty-four hours without emptying her little tummy.

We’ll make it through. We’ll all be fine. We are fortunate ones.
But sometimes I need that push to give me the blind faith I never carry within myself. This morning on the way home to my sick daughter who has missed every day this week of school, after dropping off her coughing brother at school, this Jason Mraz song came on Coffee House on Siruis XM. It was exactly what I needed today. it was everything I needed to remind myself the changes I’m thinking of, the stress I put myself through, the hardships of parenting, of loving, of living….are all completely worth every bit of heartache we feel. And even more than all of that, we are fortunate ones. Perspective is an amazing gift. Mine right now is not from a good place. My camera lens is not focused. My camera is pointing in all the wrong directions. My director has walked off the set. And my attentions are not where they need to be. I’ve known this for a while.

We are fortunate ones. And we can be even greater if we don’t give up.

I need to chase the sun.

Jason Mraz

Don’t give up. Don’t give up on knowing your dreams are worth the reaching. Don’t give up loving. Don’t give up living. Don’t let the worries get in your way. We all face challenges in our lives which can’t compare to others. Don’t compare. Don’t think your worries don’t matter because they are not as huge as others. Don’t give up.

I won’t give up.

I will follow the sun. Wherever it may take me.

Happy and Healthy Thoughts to you~

Stella

 

Don’t Be Cruel

My new message. I’ve said for a long time the world need more kindness. Not just random acts of kindness, which also matter, but everyday kindness. We need people who know how much it means to make someone smile each day. We do need kindness. But even more than needing kindness, I’ve noticed lately we simply need less cruelty. We could break cruelty down into a few pieces, starting with entitlement. Cruelty can be described on many levels, but I feel entitlement is an important place to start. Why are people cruel? Why did I read this morning a news story about a baby dolphin dying on a beach because humans were passing it around to take selfies? That kind of thing shouldn’t happen. I can’t imagine all of these people are cruel by nature. But they do feel some sort of entitlement. They do think about the amount of likes, hearts, and thumbs up they will get on social media if their selfie included a baby dolphin. But at some point the idea they had of being entitled to a picture with a baby dolphin turned into a reality of a picture with a dead dolphin who only wanted to be home in the water. The fine line between being kind and not being cruel can be seen here. No one would have thought it overly kind to put the animal back in the water. But many, including myself, think it’s cruel to keep the animal out of the water to the effect of his death. Entitlement reaching to cruelty happens all too often. And it doesn’t always involves innocent animals. Sometimes people are involved.

If you’ve read my blog before, you may know my daughter has a long history of being bullied. I’ve asked children over and over why they feel the need to be cruel. What do you have to gain from making someone else miserable? What do you have to gain from being the reason someone smiles? I can’t answer the first. I have no idea what there is to gain in making someone sad. Maybe some feel powerful. Maybe some feel better about themselves. But I can’t imagine cruelty offers enough positive energy to sustain a person for the entire day. However, making someone feel good, bringing a smile to someone’s face, especially if they are having a bad day to begin with, offers an energy which cannot be replicated. It’s almost like eating a full healthy breakfast in the morning. Walking away from someone who feels happier because of something you offered, a joke, help with a task, a compliment, feels warm, fuzzy, enlightening, and grounding. It is something which can hold your hand throughout the rest of your day.

So why are people cruel? There are many theories from envy to learning the behaviors from an early age. To a point, we will often follow the path laid in front of us, so if a child is raised in an abusive home, often they become the abuser. But not in every case. Plenty of people have proudly broken a circle before they became the victim and abuser. Some say it’s just the nature of certain people. No matter their family life, they are simply who they are. I think if we wanted to change, we could. If we were willing to look deep inside ourselves and find a willingness to work. It’s not easy to lose weight. It’s not easy to get up every day, go to the gym, and eat every meal mindful of weight loss goals. It’s not easy for an addict to give up their addictions.  But it’s also not impossible. People do it every day. We can wake every day and choose not to be cruel. We can even choose to be kind.

I remind my children of human relationships each day. I tell them they won’t like every kid in their school. And not everyone will like them either. Neither of these facts makes anyone a bad person. We are all different. And in my family, we celebrate differences. We celebrate with silly songs, dances, and lots of giggles. We are not perfect. We make mistakes. We react. Sometimes we even react to cruelty. And sometimes even in a cruel manner. But I have a rule in my home. I’ve asked my children for years to always be kind. Be polite. Be respectful. You don’t have to bring someone else down to pull yourself up.  There’s never a reason to be cruel. My daughter comes home every day talking about the cruelty at school. Useless, hurtful comments made to her about her clothing, her hair, her back pack, what she eats, how she walks, her voice, if you can imagine it, kids at her school had said something cruel to her about it. She has been kicked, pushed, tripped, and made fun of when she drops things, walks, dances, or simply exists. I don’t begin to understand it.

But I am starting to understand that my initial kindness matters and simply be kind campaign was not as simple as I thought. The first thing we need to be teaching our children is to not be cruel. Please teach your children they are not expected to like everyone they meet. They will not click with everyone they meet. But the fact they do not like someone does not entitle them to be cruel. Not liking someone doesn’t entitle anyone to cruelty. It doesn’t make name calling acceptable. Not liking someone doesn’t make cruel comments tolerable. I’ve tried to tell my children all the many possible reasons kids are cruel to them. I’ve practically begged them not to be cruel in turn. I can walk away each morning knowing I’ve done my best. I wonder at times if other parents can say the same. I know it’s judgmental to say that. I don’t pretend to know what it is like to walk in another’s shoes. But I also wonder what guidance a child who is cruel day in and day out has at home and at school.  Once I walk away from my children each morning, I can only hope my teachings have sunk in. I can only hope they are kind when I’m not around. I do know they know how it feels to be dragged down day after day. I hope this very moment they are the reason someone is smiling. I hope right now they are ignoring the cruelty they face each day. Cruelty for simply existing.

So my request today is simple. Don’t be cruel. Don’t be mean. Accept someone you don’t like for just that. But don’t push them down. If you can do that one simple thing today, try the other simple thing. Be kind. My daughter might be clumsy. She might be pushed more than she tells me. I’m not sure. But she talks about falling down a lot while at school. She’s fallen down steps, in front of crowds, and all by herself in a quiet hallway. She’s also told me she’s not the only clumsy kid there. She’s made a few friends by being kind and helping those kids who have fallen pick up their belongings and sometimes their pride before moving on. I hope she’s always that person. The one who will help when someone has fallen down. The one who is not cruel. The one who is kind.

Do not be cruel is a message I am surprised isn’t out in the universe just yet. I think for many of us it is common sense.  For others cruelty is second nature. So, today, I ask that you not be cruel.

 

Stella! Where ya been?

 

Six weeks – no writing

Ask any writer what they do when they go for a month and a half without writing. They’d probably tell you it’s much like being held under water without breathing. At some point you need air. A writer must purge. We write a lot. Every day. Many words fly from our fingers, and many of those words our readers don’t see. We vent, we outline, we think on paper, even digital paper, we build thoughts, worlds, and characters from our fingertips. Many come to life later, maybe in a novel, maybe in a short essay or blog. Some characters are real, like the woman who told a stranger they’d have to tie me to the roof of the car if I got any larger while pregnant with my first baby. We write just as we breathe. We journal. We share. We live and breathe in words on paper.

I haven’t written anything in six weeks. On November 4th, right at the beginning of NaNoWriMo, my best writing buddy passed on, joining the cemetery of laptops I have in my office. I feel as if I might become the junk car guy, only with used and broken laptops. But I won’t tear them apart. They are useless to me. I’m not a tech junkie who can build a 747 Boeing airplane with spare laptop parts. I now have six of them stacked inside a cabinet in my office. I guess once I can no longer stack them, I will maybe pull the oldest from the bottom and have an Office Space baseball bat in a field party. I’ll need someone to bring the angry rap music. I don’t think my John Denver station on Pandora will help me purge emotions from failed laptops.

It took my husband and me about a week to make a decision on a new laptop. Do we run down to Best Buy and buy what they have in stock? NaNoWriMo had just started. I was eager to write a new novel. Or do we do it right, and order a custom built Dell to keep me happier for longer? Short term goals or long term goals? I just wanted to write. But I was thinking long term as well. I want to write all the time, not just in November. So my husband gave me his laptop for a few weeks so I could continue to put fingertip to keyboard and write. And we ordered a Dell. My last Dell was an Inspiron. My new Dell is an XPS. I was excited for the beautiful HD Infinity Edge screen, the new technology, the Windows 10 already on the machine since I’m certain it was the upgrade to 10 that killed my old laptop.

The week of Thanksgiving my new laptop arrived. Each day before that, my husband would check the status of it. “It’s being built now, honey,” he’d tell me. I’d taken a fall, but I’d be okay. Meanwhile, my old laptop wasn’t fully dead. It would hold a battery charge until the battery died, then it would die. But somehow it would recharge. I couldn’t back it up because the backup software we used wasn’t compatible with Windows 10. We bought a new battery. And the battery store took my old battery to recycle. Wasn’t that so nice of them? Only my old battery would recharge a bit. The new batteries, we bought two of them, are both dead, and we have no way of charging them. The computer is dead, and it’s not backed up. Not since I wrote four chapters in my latest novel. I’ve come to terms with the fact these chapters may be gone. I can rewrite them. They won’t be the same, but they may be better. My husband has agreed to take out the hard drive and try to salvage what’s on it. If he can, great, if not, then there is nothing we can do.

So I focused on my new Dell XPS with the beautiful graphics and edge to edge screen. I’m back online. I’m back with Scrivener and Word. I can write.

Only I can’t type. For some reason, the keyboard on the XPS simply sucks. That’s all there is to it. I’ve typed on it for about three weeks now, and my conclusion is it simply sucks. It’s very flat. I opted not to do the touch screen with this laptop, and I didn’t want a solid state drive. Even without a solid state drive, though it does have one, it also has a hard drive, the laptop is so thin and lightweight. Great! Right? Expect much of the weight comes from making it too tablet-like. I didn’t want touch screen because I have tablets. I wanted a laptop. But the keyboard sucks. Gone are the Page up/down and Home/End buttons. Well, they are there, but they are shared with the arrow keys. So scrolling isn’t a one key function anymore. The Enter key is about the size of 1.5 letter keys. And the space bar doesn’t space when I touch it. My husband says I need some more thumb strength. Sure, I’ll just head right to the gym for the little thumb barbells. I can’t write today, I need to get my thumb work out in. He tried the keyboard and said, “I had a few problems, but you just need to get used to it.” Our next resolution was to hook up a USB keyboard, which I am on now so I can type. I took two typing tests this morning. On the laptop keyboard, my typing score was 60 WPM with an error rate of 0 WPM. Because I have practically no spaces between words. I’m not the fastest typist, but I do require spaces. I took the test again on the USB keyboard, and my score was 56 WPM. It’s a noticeable difference. Now, I can’t sit on my bed and write. I can’t sit on the couch and write. I might be stuck at my desk using an additional keyboard. There goes writing at Starbucks. There goes sitting at the playground while my kids play. I’m frustrated and frankly, furious.

This blog is nothing but complaining. I know. But it’s also the most I’ve written in six weeks. I will be resolute. I will move forward. I will write. I’m not sure when I will move on to editing Just Jules, which has a new name at the moment, but I’d like to see if my husband can get those four chapters off my old laptop. I’m adjusting. I’ve lost laptops before, but I’ve never had a true, hard crash. This time, I lost everything. When I set up my email on Outlook, everything was gone. I have no addresses. I use Gmail and my phone for many things, but gone are the days, for now, at least, of typing the first few letters and having Outlook find everything for me. Gone are the days, for now, of knowing where everything is. I don’t have Photoshop yet. I didn’t do Christmas cards this year. I’m at a complete loss. But I am fortunate this time of year, to have the ability to replace what I’ve lost. I need to find time and patience within myself to adjust and recover.

It’s not the end of the world. But it’s been hard. I’ll get back to writing. I’ll get back to publishing. I’ll get to sharing my mistakes so you can have an easier journey…and believe me, I’ve made mistakes. And I know it. But I also know I am human, and I’m working on forgiving myself as well.

Be kind, my friends. And go back up your work now. Now. Like, right now.

Stella

#AmWriting

Clearly, I am writing.

I have a scene to write. About fishing. I know about….nothing when it comes to fishing. I used to go fishing with my dad when I was little. I have memories of my grandfather fishing. My grandfather’s brother owned a seafood business my whole life. Yet, still I know close to nothing about fishing.

What kind of fish swim in the cold fresh waters of Colorado’s high mountains? I have no idea. This is why Google is my friend.

But writing this scene took me back to writing 34 Seconds. Nikki goes back home after years of being away and only visiting occasionally. I’m trying desperately to reopen my boxes of memories of fishing so I can write this scene. But I might not have the key to this particular box.

Excerpt from 34 Seconds:

Every time I visited, I thought I was still that young woman who left so many years ago. I’d locked up certain pains into little compartments inside my heart and inside my mind, and some of them tended to pop open like a Jack in the Box when I set foot onto my father’s property. I forgot just how many years have passed. I forgot how much can change and yet still stay the same in so many years.

If you know about fishing, you are welcome to teach me.

So you wanna write and publish

I took a flight from Denver, Colorado to Farmington, New Mexico. It was a puddle jumper plane. Little. Few seats. Only it didn’t jump puddles. It jumped the Rocky Mountains. I don’t know if you’ve ever been through the Rockies, but they are magnificent. Majestic. And quite rocky. It’s not a vision that only leaves you in awe, but also in fear, flying above those peaks. This flight was before 2001. The cockpit door was open. In between the pilot and co-pilot lay a manual. I was in the first seat. There were only about six seats on the plane. This thing wasn’t planning on every going very far. It was a plane that flew below clouds looking up at the all huge aircraft flying high and fast above, with aspirations to be that amazing one day. If this story took place in a cartoon, that is. Anyway, the one flight attendant shared my knee space and faced me. I feared a sneeze might push her against the door flinging us all out to pepper the massive rocks. Holding tight to my seat, I looked again at the two pilots and the book sitting open between them. I’m not sure why I said it except I am a funny person, but out loud, I said, “What is that? The ‘So You Wanna Be a Pilot Manual’?” The pilot turned and smiled. The flight attendant stifled a giggle. I held on tight. We were heading over rocky terrain, and I wanted to live. I watched that book the whole flight, ready to take it and read out loud if needed, but also secretly hoping neither pilot would pick it up for instructional reading while flying my precious life an hour and a half away from home.

A few years ago I started a novel. I started a few actually. Last year I finished one. Then I gave it to people to read. And they liked it. Then I had it edited and formatted. Both took much longer than I had planned. Then I edited it again because I question everything and decided I didn’t like everything I’d kept from my editor. More formatting. Cover designer who had been waiting for more than year was ready to go. Boom, it’s ready to go out. Right? No. I’m in a trial by error stage right now.

Right now, if you are a writer or want to be a writer, get your pilot’s guide out now, and start writing.

Happy words,

Stella

Writing