Don’t Speak: On Writers and Angst and How to Deal

Posted by houndrat on Saturday Feb 19, 2011 Under writing, Young Adult

Is it just me, or does a ton of publishing advice lately seem to revolve around telling writers to glue their tongues to the roofs of their mouths? Rules. Everywhere you look, more and more rules. But these rules aren’t about writing—at least, not as it pertains to drafting novels. They’re more a list of what writers SHOULDN’T write about on the internet. A list of writer DON’Ts. Such as:

DON’T talk about the querying process
DON’T talk about the submission process
DON’T talk about agents
DON’T talk about books unless you LOVE them
DON’T talk about anything negative
DON’T talk
DON’T talk
DON’T talk

Zip it!

This might sound easy, simple, cake-esque. The truth is, it’s not. Not at all.
Personally, I think it’s unfortunate that we have this mindset, that talking about anything other than successes or double rainbows is taboo.

For one:

There are a lot of misconceptions out there regarding parts of the publishing process, especially if we’re talking about going on submission to editors. Which makes sense, given how we’re lectured up and down that what happens on sub, stays in Vegas. Or, yanno. But for me, this policy is problematic. It’s problematic, because new authors going on sub for the first time only hear about the huge success stories—you know the ones, about the books that went to auction after, like, two minutes—and have NO CLUE about the more common stories. The ones where it takes weeks, months, years, even a second or third or fifth book to sell. And, if we writers follow The Rules, we have no way of accessing that information. Because we aren’t allowed to take about it. See the problem yet? (for an amazing post by a writer who shared her submission journey, go to Natalie Whipple’s blog)

For two:

Us writers? We’re angsty creatures by nature. We can angst over things that most people wouldn’t bother devoting even an eighth of a brain cell to. Things like, “I can’t tell if my agent was mad at me in that last email—she didn’t use any <3’s this time,” or “I just lost a follower on twitter. One! Whole! Follower! WHAT DOES IT MEAN?” or “OMG, did you see that another YA contemporary set on the planet EARTH sold on PM? That’s right—EARTH, just like mine! My novel is doomed!”

Bottling up this angst? Not good. Not good at all. Not unless we want to trigger our own Writerpocalypse, which, while potentially far more colorful than the Snowpocalypse, would also involve a whole lot more clean-up. And bleach.

I’ll be honest. Even WRITING this post makes me a little angsty. I worry I’ll be labeled a troublemaker or a complainer or that-writer-who-used-the-word-angst-way-too-many-times-in-one-post. No, honestly, that’s just how it feels. Like once you decide to become a writer, you’d better run and sign up for a daily sunshine enema, because God forbid you ever mention you’re experiencing any of those less-than-perfect feelings writers naturally feel once they get serious about…writing.

On a more serious note, I get that writers should be cautious online, and that no one wants to hear a constant stream of negativity. But at the same time, no one wants to feel like they’re being smothered, either, or as a writer friend recently said, “sanitized.” Or rendered voice-less. Writing is a socially isolating endeavor, and that leaves writers at a higher risk of certain health issues already. So angsting suffering in silence may not be the wisest solution.

My suggestion, and one that I hope satisfies both sides? Form a safe haven for yourself, a place where you can discuss the anxiety-ridden parts of being a writer without worrying about repercussions. I’ve actually created a list of “Writer Dos” to replace those “Writer Don’ts” because personally, I find “Dos” much more palatable.

DO group up with other writers, some of whom are at the same place in their publishing careers as you.
DO form a private discussion group (such as Google Groups), email list, or forum (such as invisionfree or forumotion.
DO make sure everyone knows the new forum and its contents are to remain PRIVATE, at the penalty of offenders having their Macs replaced with manual typewriters.
DO use that group to angst as needed. Vent and moan and groan all you want about querying and subbing and who wrote the most ridiculous book ever, and why, oh why, can’t people STOP writing contemporaries set on YOUR PLANET until your book sells?
DO read all the information you can on what different publishing professionals say about online protocol. Read it, and then come to your own conclusions.

And if reaching out to other writers and honestly voicing my opinion here makes me a complainer? You know what? I can live with that.

Also, just because:

needs ketchup!

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I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed a bit of a trend lately in YA books—heck, all books, for that matter. The trend? That much less wordage is going into describing the characters’ clothes.

I’m sort of guessing this is a backlash from the decline of chick lit, and even though this makes me very sad—I love, love, love my Bridget Jones and Sophie Kinsella! (and NOT just because I can relate to the Queen of Babble! Really!)—I do get it. Sort of. I mean, I get that people don’t want oodles and oodles of brand names to smack them upside the head every time they turn the page. To be sure, some of those books definitely read like product placements look in movies. Like, the authors deserved some serious kickbacks, or at the very least, free purses. ‘Cuz you can never have enough of those. Especially when you defile them as rapidly as I do.

But, on the other hand…I sort of miss the descriptions of outfits, of what the characters are wearing at any given time. Call me girly if you will (though, this is kind of amusing, given the dust gathering on my hair-styling appliances) or fashion conscious (HA! Even more amusing since most of my capris are older than my soon-to-be first grader)…or, better yet, call me someone who thinks clothes can say a lot about a character.

I mean, picture a high-school guy wearing a buttoned-up collared shirt and khakis to class, and another wearing a Sex Pistols t-shirt and ripped jeans. Without knowing anything else, you’ve suddenly got a few clues into their respective personalities. Provided they aren’t wearing those outfits to be ironic. Or it’s Halloween. Anyway.

To prove my point, I’m posting the names of popular YA characters below, followed by the kind of swimsuit I envision those characters wearing.

Yeah, okay, so maybe it’s an excuse for me to screw around on the net plan my new life as a swimsuit designer distract myself from the impending 2-day car ride of doom with the kidlets (meep!) But seriously, I think people’s personalities and circumstances influence their clothing choices—even swimwear. How your character dresses him or herself really might give your reader some new insight.

First up: Katniss from Hunger Games. Okay, so let’s face it: Katniss has no time for frivolity. She’s either helping her family survive, or she’s battling for her own life in the Hunger Games. So no cutesy, decorative crap for her—she needs sleek, fast and utilitarian. Hence I think this Speedo skinsuit would work:

Lean, mean, swimming machine!

Lean, mean, swimming machine!

Now, tell me this doesn’t say something about the wearer, especially if that person wasn’t at a swim meet?

Next up, Grace from The Dark Divine. Grace is a little old-fashioned in some ways, and given her father’s profession and her church-oriented upbringing, I just can’t see her being comfortable flashing a ton of skin. So I pictured her in something a little retro with good coverage:

Polka Dots, for the win!

Polka Dots, for the win!

Really, doesn’t this suit say that? That here’s a girl who isn’t trying to flaunt a bunch of skin, but is comfortable with herself all the same? Unlike the next character, Rose from Vampire Academy, who, let’s face it, realizes she’s hot and has no shame in sharing her hotness with others. I totally picture her wearing a skimpy string bikini:

Flaunt it, baby!

Flaunt it, baby!

And finally, the sparkly-vamp loving girl herself, Bella Swan. For the most part, Bella is a totally self-conscious character, one who eschews attention. So I envisioned her in a plain Jane black swimsuit—one that wouldn’t make anyone look twice, with good coverage, no frills, just generic.

The Safe Choice

The Safe Choice

So, what do you think? Do you agree with the overall style of my choices for these characters? And that clothes say something about a character’s personality? And, most importantly—what style of swimsuit do YOU wear?

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#booskthatchangedmyworld

Posted by houndrat on Thursday Jun 17, 2010 Under writing, Young Adult

So, Gretchen McNeil invited me to do a post on Books That Changed My World. If you’re on twitter, you’ve probably seen the hashtag floating around. I don’t know about you, but I get excited to read those tweets. Somehow, knowing my fellow tweetmeisters love so many of the same books as me shrinks the world just a little bit more.

Anyway, I feel like there are SO MANY books that made a huge impact on me, but I’m only going to name a few.

Desert Dog, Lion Hound, Big Red—basically, all of the dog books by Jim Kjelgaard. I gobbled these up when I was little, and I attribute them to instilling in me my great love of dogs that persists today. (You hear that, naughty Ridgebacks? You owe Jim. Big time.)

Big red

(image from amazon.com)

Dune by Frank Herbert: No, I’m not a huge sci-fi fan, but wow—this book just amazed me. I loved the epicness of it, and it first introduced me to the idea of the “chosen one” in fiction. Really, no wonder I became such a rabid Buffy and Matrix fan later on.

dune2

A Wrinkle in Time: The first book that really drove the point home that love conquers all. Even on other planets. With large brain monsters.

images

Fletch by Gregory MacDonald: Oh my, how I love this book. Fletch was probably my first anti-hero—charming, dry, and majorly naughty. I credit this book with starting me on my love affair with mysteries.

fletch

(image from amazon.com)

Bridget Jones’s Diary: My first foray into chick lit. Awesomesauce. Probably the reason I like injecting a little humor into most of my writing. Plus, I’m pretty sure I quoted bits of this for years afterwards.

bridget jones

Brideshead Revisited: One of my favorite books of all time. The relationships, the humor, the tragedy as everyone struggled to reconcile their religious beliefs with their lives—it’s all so amazing.

brideshead

Twilight: Okay, say what you will about sparkly vamps, but this is the book that got me writing again after a long hiatus. So I owe it a huge debt of gratitude. Good Vampire.

twilight

I could go on and on and on, but I won’t. Instead, please share books that changed YOUR life–I’d love to know!

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On Synopses and Sex and the City

Posted by houndrat on Thursday Jun 3, 2010 Under writing, Young Adult

Sequel synopsis update: Major fail. I have a page and a half of ideas, so at least it’s starting to take form. The bad news? It’s a huge jumble. Have I mentioned before how hard it is to be a pantser sometimes?

But there is progress. There are now two semi-coherent paragraphs that actually sound like I know what I’m talking about. But the rest is kind of…non-existent sketchy.

I mean, I’m reasonably certain my agent Taylor will NOT be impressed if I send her the following:

Trent…
Training exercise goes awry.
Before that can happen, though, the students must do x.
DEMONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Steph?
Foreshadowing scene…..
How many die??
DEMONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yes, this was cut and pasted from the second half of the actual synopsis. Just further proof that my brain, eet ees scary!

Anyway, in an effort to procrastinate hope it writes itself give my mind a little break, I decided to concentrate on something of vast importance: Sex and the City. Specifically, I’m wondering—which Sex and the City girl are YOU?

It came up on twitter the other day, and it got me thinking—I’m none of them. None. But, I do have favorites, and they might surprise you. Here’s my mini rundown of each character, in descending order of how much I like them.

Charlotte:

charlotte jpeg
Pros: Sweet, proper, perfect wife
Cons: Sweet, proper, perfect wife. Honestly? Charlotte kinda bugs the snot out of me at times. Of all the characters, I honestly think she’s the most underdeveloped, and her pseudo-primness makes me want to wallpaper her car with pages ripped out of Playgirl.? She is a good friend in a crunch, though.

Carrie:

carrie
Yep, believe it or not, Carrie is my second least fave character. While she does have an amazing wardrobe, goes to cool parties, and gets to work as a writer (bonus points for that), let’s face it—she’s also kinda whiny and centers her life around men wayyyy too often for my taste.

Samantha:

MCDSEAN EC106

Okay, so yeah, she’s narcissistic, a bit silly and overdramatic sometimes, but OMG–the woman knows how to have F.U.N! She’s also confident, successful, grabs life by the balls (often literally) and for the most part, doesn’t chase after some guy like he’s the salvation of the universe. She may be over-the-top, but you gotta love her even more for that.

Miranda:

miranda

?
I think Miranda is actually the most honest, thoughtfully drawn character on the show. She’s got a career, she’s got a kid, she struggles with body image sometimes, has romances but doesn’t live and die by men, and has a practical streak and a brain. She’s a perfect foil for the more flamboyant Carrie and Samantha.

So, who’s your favorite?

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Either this synopsis or my purse will kill me. You decide.

Posted by houndrat on Thursday May 27, 2010 Under writing, Young Adult

It’s white. It’s scary. It’s an UNWRITTEN SYNOPSIS—EEEEEEEEK!!!!!!!

So, I’m getting ready to go on sub soon (yay!) and my lovely Agent has suggested I work on a synopsis for the sequel to Demon Guard. You know, just in case. Yeah,that’s right—a synopsis for a book that HASN’T BEEN WRITTEN YET.

Gulp.

Now, I know lots of writers who express hatred/fear/paranoia about outbreaks of hives when the word “outline” is mentioned. Believe me when I tell you—no one can match my terror. No one. I mean, seriously, do you have ANY idea how hard this is for me? Me, the person whose brain is so disorganized, my mom’s almost OCD-style neatness genes ran shrieking out of the egg at the mere thought of coming near little embrionic moi? Because, let’s face it. Outlines imply organized thinking. And I repel organization.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a reminder: a sneak peek inside my purse. Oh, it looks innocent enough from the outside:

see how innocent it looks?

see how innocent it looks?

But unzip that sucker and here’s what you’ll find:

Wait--is something in there MOVING?

Wait--is something in there MOVING?

Though, maybe find is the wrong word. An oxymoron really, when it comes to hunting down items inside this dark abyss of funk:

Oh, look, cashew crumbs!  Too bad we haven't bought those in months...

Oh, look, cashew crumbs! Too bad we haven't bought those in months...

The good news? I’ve got hand sanitizer! ‘Course, I’m the only person who needs it to protect her from the cooties lurking INSIDE her purse, but hey, what can you do?

I wonder if it comes in the gallon size?

I wonder if it comes in the gallon size?

And some of you thought my UF was kinda scary–HA! ? I know, maybe I should write a YA horror novel, involving a purse that grows people-eating monsters. All from digesting a mish-mash of stale Cheerios, dried up Play-Doh bits, and Chuck E. Cheese ticket-lint.

Yum.

(No joke–something in there stabbed me in the leg once, through the bottom of my purse. I’m scared.)

No, I have no idea of what all’s in there, and frankly, I don’t want to know. When it starts smelling bad enough, I’ll just rescue my wallet, toss the rest and buy a new one. All hail cheap Target purse-wear.

So, yeah, this pre-synopsis thing is kind of kicking my butt. Send help.

And purses.

Seriously, though, how do you outliners do it? No, really?

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Teaser Tuesday….Now That’s a Haircut!

Posted by houndrat on Tuesday May 25, 2010 Under writing, Young Adult

OMG, I’ve been such a blog slacker lately! I think the pre-sub stress is getting to me (but hey, by the time I actually go on sub, I should be broken in, right? :D In the meantime, I’ve put in about 14k on a new WIP–which is not this one. I’m contrary like that. This is a snip from an older WIP that’s gathering dust at the moment. Hope you enjoy! (P.S. I swear, I started this novel prior to getting my awesome agent, who is named Taylor like my extremely messed up MC–EEEEK! Sorry, Taylor!)

“Although, you can’t blame them for being jealous. You really do have amazing hair.” He tugs on a strand, letting it slide between his fingers until it falls back into place.

Your hair is amazing, Taylor. You’re so lucky–I wish mine was long and wavy like yours.

Lainey’s voice, filling my ears. Lainey’s fingers, running through my hair the same way.

I stumble back as anxiety claws its way up into my throat, dimming my surroundings. My hair. I can still feel her fingers tugging it, separating it into sections for a braid. I used to love having people play with my hair. Now, I feel like something heavy is trying to suffocate my head, like the strands brushing my neck are trying to choke me. I can’t take it. I can’t—

“I’ve got to go,” I blurt, before scooping up my backpack and dashing for the door. I don’t wait to see what he says, but sprint for the bathroom. Please be empty, please, please.

I burst in, heart hammering, worrying half the school chose this very moment to take a pee break. Luckily there’s no one inside. The panic is nearly drowning me now. I yank at my hair until tears spring to my eyes. Keep yanking, but it won’t come off. I hate it. People see my hair and think they know me. They don’t. Those stupid blond strands aren’t me, not anymore.

I wish mine was long and wavy like yours.

I stare at my reflection blindly. Then, I dig frantically through my backpack for my knife.

The relief hits the second my fingers touch the cold metal, but it’s short-lived. Get it off, I have to get it off. I yank a strand taut with the other hand and start sawing away.

A huge chunk of blond floats to the floor. Followed by another. And another. Once I start, I can’t stop. It’s amazing how every butchered piece releases a little of that rib-grinding pressure from my chest, eases the solidified feeling in my lungs. Pretty soon, the entire floor is littered with hair. It looks like someone buzzed a fucking Golden Retriever in here. I don’t stop, though. I don’t stop until every last strand is gone—and I can finally breathe again.

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Do the Write Thing for Nashville

Posted by houndrat on Friday May 14, 2010 Under writing, Young Adult

I’m excited to announce that my group blog, GotYA, got together a prize package for the Do the Write Thing for Nashville. It’s up for auction NOW—if you’re an unagented YA writer, go! Bid! Win some cool stuff, and more importantly, help Nashville recover from this terrible disaster!

Nashville GotYA auction

For more info on the prizes, check out the post about it on our group blog:

GotYA

Well, what are you waiting for? Go bid–if not on our package, then someone else’s! Let’s all work togther to support Nashville during this crisis!

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Flashback Friday…songs that take us back

Posted by houndrat on Friday May 7, 2010 Under music, writing, Young Adult

So our Flashback Friday post is up on the GotYA homepage. This week’s topic is Songs that Take Us Back, and there might even be, cough, singing.

I had a really hard time choosing just one song for this because I was hugely into music in my teens, and believe it or not, there was a ton of great stuff to pick from (thank you, KROQ). Honorable mentions include songs by Guns n’ Roses, the Beastie Boys, General Public, and the Cult (Love Removal Machine, for the win!) ((Plus, OMG, all that fab music by New Order, Pet Shop Boys, the Cure, the Smiths, etc).

But this next song is really the one that takes me straight back to my teen years like a musical time machine (not to be confused with a hot tub time machine, although, hey–that took them back to the ’80′s, too, right?) I mean, how can you not love lyrics that talk about candy, diamonds and pills? Um.

Anyway, here you go. Enjoy.

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Writer’s Envy: What to Do When You’re Feeling Green

Posted by houndrat on Monday Apr 26, 2010 Under writing, Young Adult

So, as a writer, do you ever find yourself feeling like this?

It's not easy being green!

It's not easy being green!

No, I’m not talking about feeling like you have ears the size of small trumpets, or a neck that could support a Hummer. I’m taking about feeling green.

If so, don’t worry. You’re not alone. The truth is, writers envy other writers. Often.

Think about it. Most of us are striving for the same goals, and no matter how successful we are, someone is going to reach those goals before us. It’s inevitable. And, OMG, then we worry.

I mean, be honest. Have you ever had one of the following thoughts?

Well, if Writer FancyPants got SuperAwesomeAgent X, does that mean there’s no spot left for ME?

Prolific Proser finished that novel in two weeks, and yet I’ve been slogging away at mine for decades!

Writer LovelyWords wrote a first draft full of such gorgeous, luscious prose, it makes my first draft read like it was penned by a dyslexic donkey!

Then there’s the post-agent envy. That green pang that strikes every time someone you know snags a one, two, three-book deal while you’re twiddling your thumbs on sub, wondering if the editors are using your manuscript as a giant coaster—for the champagne they’re drinking while celebrating the acquisition of THAT OTHER book. Or when so and so gets more marketing money, a better cover, superior book store real estate. The list goes on and on and on.

No fair--his is bigger than mine!

No fair--his is bigger than mine!

http://ruach.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/envy-of-the-bone1.jpg

Guess what? It’s OKAY to be a little envious. It’s a natural human reaction, and initially coveting someone else’s success doesn’t make you a bad person. Really.

That said, there comes a time when the coveting goes too far. I’m all about accepting your envy, only—don’t let it take you to the Bad Place. You know the one. That’s where you go when you start mumbling stuff like, “Oh, Author BigHugeDeal ONLY got that sweet contract because they were in the right place at the right time.” Or, “Author I’veGotARockstarAgent ONLY got signed because he/she had the right connections.”

Uh-uh. Not cool. Remember—99.0% of the writers who get ahead do so because of hard work, skill, and persistence. So while it’s okay to feel that envy, you need to throw up an inner roadblock. Do NOT drag Author HotSHot to your Bad Place. That’s where your insecurities live, and the only person who can deal with those is YOU. Because if you don’t believe in yourself, really—why would anyone else?

So, instead of a visit to the BP, I’ve made up a little list of helpful hints to keep that really negative type of envy in check:

-Chow down on chocolate. That stuff is FULL of endorphins—embrace it. Plus, if you eat a ton of it, you’ll be too busy trying to get that extra five pounds off to worry about what WonderWriter is doing.

-Buy a killer new pair of shoes. Hey, Author Amazing might have had SqueeWorthy Agent offer five minutes after sending out a full, but YOU’VE got the hot footwear—and your toes/ankles/calves are smoking in those suckers!

-Watch your favorite movie. Then, think about envying your favorite actor or actress instead. Chances are, they’re way more successful than Author FabuFreakingLicious is ever going to be.

-Make a list of awesome skills you have that SpectacularScribbler doesn’t share. Like, the ability to pick up small objects with your toes, or execute a perfect rendition of the Running Man. Or the very crucial talent of shot-gunning a beer in under ten seconds.

In all seriousness, though, the best thing? Let yourself experience the envy without beating yourself up about it. Then, after you’ve embraced your inner green self—get over it. Move on. Realize everyone has their highs and lows, and learn to appreciate your own strengths. And, if it makes you feel any better, know this—there’s probably another writer out there right this very minute who’s envious of YOU.

(P.S. What honestly works for me? Getting really, really excited for the writer in question. I find it’s almost impossible to be ecstatic for someone else and still harbor seriously negative emotions. Plus, squeeing on other people’s behalves? IT’S FUN—and kills free-radicals!!!!)**

**Note: this claim has not been substantiated by medical science. In other words—you’ll just have to take houndrat’s word for it. Sparkle Out.

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Teaser Tuesday: Beware of the Wall Face

Posted by houndrat on Tuesday Mar 30, 2010 Under writing, Young Adult

At the last minute, decided to post a random Teaser from my WIP about a girl’s addiction. It’s rough, raw, and a wee bit dark. Hope you enjoy! (And with that, it’s back to the revision cave for me!)

It’s cold, so freaking cold. I curl my knees into my body, wrap my arms around tight. Sit very, very still. I’m almost afraid to breathe. They’re staring at me, I know they are. Hunting me. Faces in the wall, bursting out and grabbing at me with long, fleshless fingers. They’re all out to get me. Devour me. I scrunch down into the tightest ball I can manage, trying to disappear.

Something brushes against my neck.

My body shivers, and I rock, rock, rock, keeping my eyes tightly closed. “No, no, go away! I can’t see you, I can’t.”

A voice. “Kaylin?”

They know my name. They’re trying to trick me. I can’t look, I can’t look. They might snatch me into the wall if I do. “No. No! NO!!! La, la, la, I can’t see you.” I start to laugh, rock even faster.

They won’t win. I’m too smart. I’m too—

“NO!” My hands whip up like claws to scratch at whatever is touching my neck, but I keep my eyes squeezed shut like my life depends on it. Oh, God, are there bugs crawling on me? I shake violently, slap at my arms. Maybe if I peel off my skin, they’ll go away. I start to scratch, and I can’t stop. Deep down, a part of me knows I’m shredding the fuck out of my arms, but I don’t care. I want it to go away. I want everything to go away. My skin is dirty, but blood is clean. Blood will wash it all away.

“Jesus—KAYLIN! STOP!” Strong hands manacle my wrists, yank my arms behind me.

It’s a trick. It’s a trick. It’s—

My eyelids flutter open. A figure, kneeling before me, dark hair dripping like chocolate across his forehead. Not a wall face. Safe. “P-Patrick?”

Relief rushes through me in a wave of liquid joy. My fears melt away. But something is wrong. I can see it, there in the downward arch of his mouth, the pain radiating behind his dark blue eyes.

My trembling fingers reach up to touch the cool skin of his cheek. “Patrick, why are you sad?”

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