Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Wild Within: Interview with Romantic Suspense Author Christine Hartmann

Christine Hartmann grew up in Ohio and Delaware and loves traveling to exotic, romantic settings. After a college semester in Kathmandu, her first three “real” jobs were all in northern Japan, where she lived for almost 10 years. She currently splits her career between her daytime occupation (improving the quality of veterans’ nursing home care) and her nights/weekend avocation (writing both fiction and non-fiction books). Her husband Ron Strickland is a well-known long-distance hiker and trail guide writer and the founder of the 1,200-mile Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. Christine loves reading, pilates, bicycling, and snorkeling, and health foods that taste like they’re bad for you. You will often find her at a keyboard, a German shepherd at her side, and Ron whispering sweet edits over her shoulder.

Her latest book is book one of the Wild at Heart series, Wild Within.

For More Information

What first inspired you to write or who inspired you?

I made a big change in my life in 2007, switching jobs and moving to a different state. The new people I met asked me what I liked to do outside of work. I said something like, “If I won the lottery, I’d like to write books.” Eventually I decided that if I wanted to write, I should make time to do it, not expect that time to fall into my lap. So I reprioritized things outside of work and created the space
to make my fantasy a reality.

Do you take notes when reading or watching a movie?

When I was young, I thought it was shocking to write in books. The school system probably drilled that into me. Now I often underline things when reading, make notes in the margins, and dog-ear pages. After reading a particularly informative book, I often make a Word document where I jot down the main points so I can find them again later.

Do you have a day job?  What do you do?

I have a day job working for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). I do research on nursing homes. In VA nursing homes are called “community living centers.” I feel honored to work with community living center staff and residents to conduct studies on how to improve the quality of care. My main focus is improving the “person-centeredness” of care. This means having the regular routine of the community living center be focused on meeting the needs and desires of people who live there. It’s very meaningful working me. I feel privileged be part of a system that always strives to improve itself.

Can you name three writing tips to pass on to aspiring authors?

I can only pass on what has been helpful to me. First, as I said above, is to make the time for writing, even when that feels difficult to do. I also found it important to learn how to edit myself. I worked on my first book with an editor from the publisher. He made wonderful suggestions, but I never was able to discern a pattern in what he recommended until I took an editing class. I also read a lot of books on editing, which I found very helpful. For me, finding an agent and a publisher were also important steps. I know some people have great success with self-publishing, but for me the more brains that work on a book, the better the book becomes. So I very much appreciate the steps involved in working with an agent and then working with a publishing house to create a final product.

What are you reading now?

I’m a grammar nerd. I’m reading Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris. I love the title. It’s one of my pet peeves when people say, “…give that to you and I.” You’d never say, “Give that to I.” You’d say, “Give that to me.” The rule about what follows a preposition doesn’t change just because you put someone else in the sentence. So I love that she made that the title.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on the next book in my Wild at Heart romantic suspense series. The first book was Wild Within. Book 2 is at the publisher and will be out in the fall. I’m working on Book 3. It’s set partly in Las Vegas, and what happens in Vegas in this book will not be staying in Vegas!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Interview with Charles M., author of 'The Jungle Within'

Despite growing up in a small town, I always knew I was destined for bigger things. At age eighteen, I enlisted in the US Navy, a move that allowed me to see the world and explore my passion for life. After 6 years and an honorable discharge, I settled into civilian life, earning my Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and an MBA in Technology Management.

Always eager to challenge myself with new and different roles, I took on the role of “Author,” writing my debut novel among the roles of full-time engineer, local business owner, and family man. But, I have no plans to stop there!

I am an avid outdoorsman, enjoy camping, hiking, snowboarding, shooting, and fishing, making the Land of Enchantment an ideal place to call home.

I look forward to sharing my novel and experiences with all of you!

Charles’ latest book is the drama/suspense, The Jungle Within.

For More Information
About the Book:

Title: The Jungle Within
Author: Charles M.
Publisher: Createspace
Pages: 308
Genre: Drama/Suspense

When Evan and Katie said “I do”, they expected to navigate life together side-by-side. But when a car accident and a tawdry affair disrupt life as they know it, Evan and Katie are forced to venture on alternate paths, alone. In the darkest depths of an unforgiving coma, Evan fights to survive the treacherous jungle of his mind. He embarks on a spiritual journey to understand the meaning of life and the beauty of death…forcing him to face his deepest fear. Meanwhile, Katie ventures through her own guilt. On a strenuous moral journey, she juggles the consequences of infidelity and the strain of caring for her unresponsive husband. But are their paths truly separate? Or are they simply on parallel journeys that are destined to converge?

For More Information

  • The Jungle Within is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

At what age did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I think I knew I would write a book from a very early age. It took me until I was 36 to do finally do it, but wow, it was worth it. Like a bad drug, I tried it once and now I’m hooked. I absolutely love writing. It’s so amazing to tell a story. So many people complain about the ending of a movie or a book, but when you’re the writer, you control it. And the best part is, ANYBODY can write! You don’t need special equipment, lots of money, or any of that. Just bring your imagination!

Do you take notes when reading or watching a movie?

I do. I use the notepad on my phone. You’ll see me out the blue, pull it out and write something in it. I don’t always use it right away, but if I think of something compelling, I save it. You never run out of places to put good ideas.

Do you have a day job?  What do you do?

Yes, I have a full time business as an Electrical Engineer. I love what I do, but my passion has quickly become writing. I love to hear a reader tells me they couldn’t put the book down, or they loved so and so as a character. It’s an amazing feeling to know that your words affected someone else.

Can you name three writing tips to pass on to aspiring authors?

The first, which I would consider the most important, it to just write. Everyone has great ideas but until you put them on paper, they are just that, ideas. Write. About anything, just put words on paper. You’ll be amazed at what comes out. The second thing is to set aside time every day for writing. With a full-time job, I have a goal of 1000 words a day. That isn’t a lot, but the fact that I write every day is important, because like anything else, it becomes a habit. Finally, the last thing I would say to aspiring authors is that brainstorming is important, I do it all day long in my head, but the outline is more important. An outline puts it all in order. And when you know what you’re writing, it’s easy to write.

Do you let unimportant things get in the way of your writing?

So many trivial things get in the way of my writing. But it’s life. Unless you’re a recluse living in isolation, or a full time writer, it’s very difficult to not get distracted. But that’s good news for other writers! If I can do it, so can you!

How often do you write?

I try to write at least once a day. But sometimes life can get in the way. So I shoot for 7000 words a week. Sometimes I get that done in 5 days, sometimes it takes the full week. I’ve even slacked off one week (which I’ll never do again) and had to write all 7000 words during the weekend. It was tough, but I got it done. Mostly because I love doing it, but like anything else, it can wear you out.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on my second book, titled The Light In Her Life. I have a pretty decent outline of where the story is headed. Before I start writing any book, I already know the beginning and ending. To me those are the two most important parts of the book. They come for the beginning, but stay for the ending. I would say I’m on chapter 4 of 20 on this book. I have another book started that I recently shelved to take on The Light In Her Light. That one was called Letters From a Ghost. The Light In Her Light drew me in more, so I wanted to focus on that first. I’ll get back to Letters From a Ghost just as soon as I have this one done. Isn’t it exciting!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Book Feature: The Mystery of Goat Mountain by Mel Long

The Mystery of Goat Mountain Book Banner

Inside the Book:

The Mystery of Goat Mountain
Title: The Mystery of Goat Mountain 
Author: Mel Long 
Publisher: iUniverse 
Pages: 338 
Genre: Fiction 
Format: Ebook

Eli left the corporate life in San Francisco and moved with his wife, Frances Amelia, to Goat Mountain, high up on the west side of the Cascade Mountains, near the small town of Colton, Oregon. When his parents died, Eli inherited the 640 acres, the original land they homesteaded in 1896. After his wife dies, Eli lives simply in a cabin on his beloved mountain. He learns to cohabitate with many of the wild animals on the land and most especially the legendary Sasquatch. He loves sharing his land, nature, and his lifestyle with his children and ten grandchildren when they visit each summer. The kids enjoy helping with the chores, swimming in the pond, learning to hunt, and exploring the open spaces. A novel, The Mystery of Goat Mountain narrates Eli's story-the many adventures he experiences and how he co-exists with the legendary Big Foot. Filled with descriptions of a scenic and idyllic Oregon locale, it intermingles a love story with that of intrigue and difficult decisions.  

Meet the Author:

Mel Long lived with his wife, Elaine, and their three sons while he taught school at Clarke's Four Corners, twenty-five miles from Goat Mountain, for twelve years. During those twelve years, he took his three sons camping on Goat Mountain. Long and his wife moved to Conroe, Texas, in 2010.


Mel is giving away a $25 Gift Card!

Terms & Conditions:
  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
  • One winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive one $25 Gift Certificate to the e-retailer of your choice
  • This giveaway begins June 27 and ends on July 8.
  • Winners will be contacted via email on July 9.
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply.
Good luck everyone!


Book Feature: Welcome to the Empire by Mark Curto Sr.

Welcome to the Empire Banner

Inside the Book:

Welcome to the Empire

Title: Welcome to the Empire 
Author: Mark Curto Sr. 
Publisher: iUniverse 
Pages: 148 
Genre: Historic Fiction 
Format: Ebook

From the dawn of recorded time, death, hell, and mayhem have been the calling cards of a Destroyer, who leaves nothing but carnage and desolation in his path. Thousands of years in the future, nine-year-old Prince Marckolius witnesses a brutal assault on his mother by a group of ruthless vampires. Mortified when she dies in his arms and convinced that his uncle had something to do with the attack, Prince Marckolius vows to seek justice. After training diligently with his aunt for several years, seventeen-year-old Marckolius gathers his friends and embarks on a search for the truth behind the evil act. Initially driven by revenge, Marckolius matures to become the legend he is meant to be as he faces off against forces led by his uncle that have been plotting to enslave the last of the free nations within the known Multiverse. In this futuristic adventure, a battle of wills is instigated between two very powerful Destroyers, leaving the Multiverse to wonder what will be left when all is said and done.

Meet the Author:

Mark Curto Sr. considers writing a serious hobby. He and his wife have four children, three of whom are autistic. Instead of pets, they have a very large fish tank of platies. Mark and his family live in Ohio. This is the first book in a saga that blends science fiction and fantasy.


Mark is giving away a $25 Gift Card!

Terms & Conditions:
  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
  • One winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive one $25 Gift Certificate to the e-retailer of your choice
  • This giveaway begins June 27 and ends on July 8.
  • Winners will be contacted via email on July 9.
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply.
Good luck everyone!


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Interview with 'Banished Threads' Kaylin McFarren

Kaylin McFarren is a California native who has enjoyed traveling around the world. She previously worked as director for a fine art gallery, where she helped foster the careers of various artists before feeling the urge to satisfy her own creative impulses.

Since launching her writing career, McFarren has earned more than a dozen literary awards in addition to a finalist spot in the 2008 RWA Golden Heart Contest. A member of RWA, Rose City Romance Writers, and Willamette Writers, she also lends her participation and support to various charitable and educational organizations in the Pacific Northwest.

McFarren currently lives with her husband in Oregon and visits her second home in California once a month. They have three grown daughters and two grandchildren, and look forward to having more.

Her latest book is the romantic suspense, Banished Threads.

For More Information
About the Book:

A valuable art collection disappears turning a treasure-hunting duo into crime-stopping sleuths committed to vindicating family members in Kaylin McFarren's action-packed suspense novel, Banished Threads.

While vacationing at the stately Cumberforge Manor in
Bellwood, England, Rachel Lyons and Chase Cohen attend an elegant dinner party hosted by her uncle, Paul Lyons, and his aristocratic wife, Sara.
Before the evening ends, a priceless collection of Morris Graves's paintings are stolen from her uncle's popular gallery, throwing all suspicion onto his wife's missing granddaughter. Determined to clear Sloan Rafferty's name and, in the process, win Paul's favor, Chase scours the countryside looking for answers. In his absence, the police accuse Rachel's uncle of an unsolved murder and secrets surrounding her grandmother's death and the deaths of Sara's former husbands turn his wife into the most likely suspect.

With the true villains hell-bent on destroying Paul Lyons and his family, solving both crimes while ensuring her uncle's freedom not only endangers Rachel's life but that of her unborn child. Will Chase save them before the kidnappers enact their revenge or will the ultimate price be paid, as predicted by a vagabond fortuneteller?

First place - 2016 Hudson Valley RWA Hook, Line & Sinker Contest


For More Information

  • Banished Threads is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

What first inspired you to write or who inspired you?

For most of my life, I’ve been fascinated by the arts—visual, literary, and performance. At the age of eight, I penned my first poem and won my first award in a short-story writing contest sponsored by the Seattle Rotary. Throughout high school and college, I continued to write in journals, and attribute my interest in a literary major to Lonny Kaneko, a highly respected English professor at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington.

I’m drawn to writing by the people I meet and the experiences I’ve had while traveling around the world. Both of these inspire me to tell stories revolving around flawed, damaged characters who are striving to better their lives and situations, and overcome their greatest fears.

Has writing always been a passion for you or did you discover it years later?

I’ve enjoying writing for most of my life but didn’t attempt to be a novelist until my children were grown and had gone away to college. At 46 years old, I had become an empty nester and had basically lost my identity. Then I pulled out an old manuscript I’d written years earlier, shortly after my father’s death, and decided it was time to sit down and finish it once and for all. After taking a few workshops and sharing my story with critique partners, I submitted it to a few contests as a way to validate my writing skills. I never expected this book to win so many awards and become a RWA Golden Heart finalist, and now I’m writing and publishing new books every year. 

Do you have a day job?  What do you do?

In addition to serving on four leadership boards – art council, education and medical foundations, I preside over my own non-profit organization, the Soulful Giving Foundation. It takes a full year of planning and 160 volunteers to implement our annual music, food, and wine event, which results in selling 4,000 tickets and donating 100% of our proceeds to cancer research.

When I’m not coordinating this event, I enjoy gardening, traveling, spending time with my family, gourmet dining, oil painting, golf, interior design, writing, and experiencing fine wines.

Can you name three writing tips to pass on to aspiring authors?

1)     Know your characters. Before I begin writing, I use photographs of models and actors from tabloid magazines to visualize my characters and create a character book – complete with birthdates, history, traits, habits, conflicts, interests and personal goals. Once this is done, I have a better idea of how each person will react when faced with a problem or potential love interest, or while fighting with an adversary. Even though I have a general idea of where my story will lead, I allow my characters to set the tone and to assist with developing any unexpected twists in my final manuscript.

2)     Write the story you want to read. Consider attempting a ghost story, a science-fiction piece, a realistic tale about your childhood, or whatever. The writer writes well about what he or she knows by primarily reading fiction of this kind, developing a story that both the reader and writer enjoys, and sharing personal views and experiences that make your book unique.

3)     Leave the door open. There are so many creative ways to entice readers and keep them coming back. A few of them, in addition to writing well, includes adding interesting secondary characters to your story, making it a practice not to answer every question, leaving a hook at the end of every chapter, and providing the opportunity for readers to solve the mystery or visualize an ending after absorbing the last page. By doing so, writers find it much easier to continue the storyline or adventures in a series…because if you’ve done a great job, your readers will fall in love with your characters and never want their stories to end.

What are you reading now?

I love all kinds of books, and here are some of my new favorites: Emily Bleeker – Wreckage, Paul Pen – The Light of the Fireflies, Neil Gaiman – The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Jefferey Archer – Kane & Abel, Jodi Picoult – The Pact, John Irving – Avenue of Mysteries. I’ve discovered the best way to write character-driven stories, mysteries, suspense, and action-packed thrillers is to read books in the same genres.

What are you currently working on?

I’m about two months away from completing Twisted Threads, the fourth book in my Threads series, which has been written to stand alone—like each of my books. In this story, I bring together the beloved villains from Buried Threads and Banished Threads and trap them on board a luxury cruise ship heading for Italy. Murder and mayhem abounds and the inner strength of characters are tested. Best of all, the true murderer is not revealed until the final chapter and, even then, readers will not be 100% sure. J

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Book Feature: No Good Deed by Auston Habershaw


Title: No Good Deed 
Author: Auston Habershaw 
Publisher: Harper Voyage Impulse 
Pages: 303 
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy 
Format: Ecopy/Paperback

Cursed with a magic ring that forbids skullduggery, Tyvian Reldamar’s life of crime is sadly behind him. Now reduced to fencing moldy relics and wheedling favors from petty nobility, he’s pretty sure his life can’t get any worse.

That is until he hears that his old nemesis, Myreon Alafarr, has been framed for a crime she didn’t commit and turned to stone in a penitentiary garden. Somebody is trying to get his attention, and that somebody is playing a very high-stakes game that will draw Tyvian and his friends back to the city of his birth and right under the noses of the Defenders he’s been dodging for so long. And that isn’t even the worst part. The worst part is that the person pulling all the strings is none other than the most powerful sorceress in the West: Lyrelle Reldamar.

 Tyvian’s own mother.

   photo addtogoodreadssmall_zpsa2a6cf28.png photo B6096376-6C81-4465-8935-CE890C777EB9-1855-000001A1E900B890_zps5affbed6.jpgB&N  


Auston Habershaw is a science fiction and fantasy writer and author of The Saga of the Redeemed (part one to be released by Harper Voyager in February 2015). You can find links to his stuff through Amazon or Goodreads (see the links to your right!). He got second place in the Writers of the Future Contest in the first quarter of 2014 (Volume 31), so he presumably has some idea of what he’s doing (though not the *best* idea, obviously). He’s also an English professor, a pretty good storyteller, and a big time geek. This blog is for him to discuss and explore some of the crazy ideas that are usually kicking around in his head, throw out some of his homemade RPGs for people to use or see, advertise his budding writing career, and see just what this whole ‘blog’ thing is about. Enjoy!

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Chapter reveal: The Conveyance, by Brian W. Matthews

Genre:  Horror/SciFi/Thriller
Author: Brian W. Matthews
Publisher: JournalStone

Purchase on Amazon

Beneath the calm waters and pastoral fields of Emersville, a deadly secret lurks. When psychologist Dr. Brad Jordan stumbles upon the odd happenings in the town, he unknowingly sets into motion a series of tragedies that could expose a danger long kept hidden from the world. As he doggedly pursues a trail of madness, suicide, and murder, he soon finds himself confronted with a massive conspiracy, and a sinister device known as the Conveyance…

A tense, taut and terrifying tale, The Conveyance is resplendent with twists, turns, and a pulse-racer of a plot.  Informed by the author’s extensive experience as a therapist, The Conveyance teems with authenticity.  The Conveyance is a standout thriller destined to stay with readers long after the last page is turned. 

Chapter One 
"I can't imagine how difficult your life's been," I said to the rail-thin boy slouched in the chair opposite mine. At twelve, he wore the characteristic sneer of a child who knew little about the world but hadn't failed enough times to realize it.
Doug Belle didn't respond, not that I expected him to. The question had been a trial balloon, my way of gauging his willingness to converse. It worked about half the time. This wasn't one of them.
"Fighting," I said. "Not listening to your teachers. At risk for failing classes. Quite a change for you, if I'm not mistaken."
I paused, letting the message sink in: I already knew something about you, we didn’t have to start from scratch. I left out that I also knew about his other, more serious issues: tendencies towards self-abusive behavior, occasional property destruction, two episodes of running away. Important as they were, they would have to wait. I needed to build a rapport first.
So I waited.
Silence burned the long minutes to ash.
I let the disquiet to play out. From an early age, parental interactions and social norms conditioned us to converse, to follow the ritual back-and-forth pattern of communication, and long periods of silence tended to make us anxious. That, in turn, prompted us to say something—anything—to fill the void.
Another trick, if you will. A way of encouraging patients to open up.
It also failed.
Time to change tactics, see if a little empathy would help.
"A lot's changed. New home, new school. Forced to make new friends while leaving the old ones behind. Nobody likes having to do that."
Doug sat, head down, arms clenched over his chest. One leg kicked back and forth, the heel of his sneaker smacking against the sofa.
Bang bang bang
Neither of us spoke, conscripted soldiers in a wordless war. But like a man defending his native country, I had an advantage: I knew the terrain. I knew every treacherous drop-off, every false turn, every dead end. Eventually, I would win. Not that victory would come easily. A fourteen-year-old girl I'd treated for an eating disorder sat through six sessions before uttering her first word. She was a tough nut. I liked her.
I was beginning to like Doug, too.
That didn't mean I wanted to spend the next few sessions playing Easter Island with him, staring at one another like great stone statues. I reached into my desk, withdrew a handful of small, squarish objects wrapped in white wax paper and covered with blue and red lettering. I unwrapped one and popped the pink tablet into my mouth.
Bubble gum, and not just any kind of bubble gum.
Bazooka bubble gum.
I chewed loudly, waiting.
Bang bang bang
The cloying smell of sugar filled my office. Some in my field might have called this tactic immature, or even unfair. Perhaps they were right. But to me it was more about encouraging kids to open up than quibbling about the method used. It was, after all, only bubble gum. And sometimes a cigar really was just a cigar.
Bang bang bang
Bang bang
Doug's defiance wound down like a pendulum running out of time, until his jean-clad leg hung motionless over the edge of the sofa. He fidgeted a little—reluctant to give up the fight, no doubt. His shoulders gradually unclenched. His hands, which had been tight balls of anger, opened, and he wiped his sweaty palms on his shirt.
That was all he would allow. His head remained firmly down, his eyes averted.
I held out my hand. "Care for one?"
No response—then, a slight nod of his head.
"Do you have braces?"
He mumbled something unintelligible.
"I didn't catch that."
"Sorry, champ. You'll have to prove it. I don't want any trouble with your mom."
Another pause, longer this time. I began to worry that I hadn't won him over.
Before I could withdraw the treats, he lifted his head. Strands of fine ginger hair covered the upper half of his face. He brushed them aside to reveal brilliant green eyes.
His lips parted into a reluctant smile.
He had told the truth: no braces.
"Here you go." I dumped the gum into his hand. "The rest are for later."
He unwrapped one and began chewing.
"What do you prefer to be called?” I said. “Dougie, or Doug?"
"Doug. I hate Dougie." He paused. "What am I supposed to call you?"
"Well, my name is Doctor Bradley Jordan, but that's a mouthful. Most kids stick with Doctor Brad."

* * *

Doug unwrapped another piece of gum and stuffed it into his mouth. His jaws worked like a wood chipper trying to grind a forest into sawdust.
For the first ten minutes we chatted about this and that, skirting the more emotionally charged issues. Eventually, we arrived at the difficulties of being "the new kid."
"Johnny Richardson's pretty cool," Doug said. "He's got one of those funny divots here." He jabbed a finger at the middle of his upper lip. "What do you call those?"
"Yeah, that’s it. A harelip. Anyway, his ain't so bad. Johnny says there's lots worse. Still, he's gotta have surgery. I feel bad for him. He gets picked on a lot."
"It's never easy being different."
"That's why Johnny and me, we stick together. We're pals. He's got my back, and I got his."
"He's lucky to have a friend like you." I paused. "Is Johnny one of the reasons you're getting into fights?"
Doug made a sour face. "He don’t know how to defend himself. He stands there like an idiot, arms hanging at his sides. He don't know nothin' about fighting. Never hits back, just stands there, eyes big and shiny. I'm surprised he hasn't pissed himself." He looked at me with hard, unforgiving eyes. "That's the worst part, you know—letting them see you're scared, showing them you’re weak. You might as well wear a shirt that says 'fuck with me' across the front. I tried to tell him, tried to get him to man up, but he don't listen. He never listens."
"You associate fear with weakness."
"You mean you don't?"
"I'm more interested in what you think."
"Nobody cares what I think." He picked up a stuffed animal, a fuzzy orangutan I occasionally used during play therapy with my younger patients, and began tossing it in the air. "I'm just a kid."
"That doesn't make you unimportant."
"If you say so."
"Somebody's told you different?"
"Kids are kids," Doug said glumly. "They're meant to be seen and not heard.” He caught the orangutan in his fists and stared at it. "Why do you have a toy monkey in your office?"
He was stalling, changing the subject. Fine, at least he was still talking.
"I sometimes use them in my work." I pointed to a large plastic container in the corner of my office. It was filled to the top with dolls, hand puppets, Matchbox cars, and games like Connect Four and Trouble and Uno.
"People pay you to play games?"
"Among other things."
"Did you have to go to school for this job?"
"College, eight years. It was a long time."
Doug snorted. "All that, just to play fucking games?"
His words hung in the air. More time passed. Therapy was often a waiting game.
"That's twice I dropped the f-bomb," he said finally, "and you didn't say anything. How come?"
"It's one of the rules. You can say what you want in here, within reason, and you don't have to worry about being judged. Another rule: our talks are confidential. No one will know what you've said. Only under certain circumstances will I break that confidence."
Doug's eyes narrowed. "What circumstances?"
"If you say you're going to hurt yourself or someone else, I will tell your mother, possibly the school authorities, maybe even the police. I won't allow anyone to get hurt. And if I receive a court order for your records, I’ll have to turn them over. That's usually not an issue, but you have a right to know."
“Whatevs.” He held out his hand. "You got a tissue or something?"
I handed him the box of Kleenex. I had nineteen more in the closet next to the door. I ran through them like they were...well, like they were tissue paper. I should own stock in Kimberly-Clark.
Snatching a tissue, Doug hawked the wad of gum into it, wrapped it into a lumpy, gooey ball, and lobbed it at my trash can. The pinkish-white monstrosity bounced off the rim and tumbled to the floor.
"No worries," I said, picking up the sticky mess and dropping it into the can. "Three-point range. Not an easy shot."
He looked around the room. "Why am I here? What am I supposed to do?"
"What you've been doing. Talk, ask questions, think."
"Sounds like a waste of time."
"It could be, if you let it. Therapy is like any other activity—the more you put into it, the more you get out. Work hard enough and you might be surprised at what you could accomplish." I paused. "Tell you what, you agree to work hard, and I promise to work just as hard. What do you say, do we have a deal?"
He stared at me, his expression tight. “What do I have to talk about?”
“Whatever you want. It's your time.”
My answer must have pleased him. His face relaxed, and he lost some of his adolescent guardedness. For a moment, I caught a glimpse of what he would look like as an adult: strong, bold, yet at the same time, sensitive. A rare mix in a world where role models were spoiled pop stars and unapologetic, multimillionaire athletes.
Doug Belle was a good kid.
He was also a troubled kid.
"I know there have been problems," I said. "You're not here as a punishment. My only concern is for you and how you're feeling. I'd like to help, but in the end, it'll be up to you. No one can force you to talk."
More silence, longer this time. The overpowering smell of bubble gum had thinned to a nauseating wrinkle in the air. Outside my office, a door opened, followed by heavy footsteps as someone lumbered toward the waiting room.
I resisted glancing at my watch. Never let someone think your time was more important than his. George H. W. Bush made that mistake and it had cost him the trust of the American people.
Doug held the orangutan, his thumb caressing its tattered cheek. He blinked, three times in rapid succession. A tear spilled from the corner of his eye and traced a path down his cheek. He wiped at it with an angry hand.
Was he thinking of his father, or his mother, now a widow?
Was he thinking of himself?
Would he see his tears as a sign of weakness and shut down?
I didn't know. I could only wait, so I did.
Doug finally let out a long, slow sigh and tossed the doll aside. "Do I have to talk about my dad?"
"Only if you want to."
"And if I don't?"
I spread my hands. "Like I said, it's your time."
"You always this easygoing?"
He eyed the container of toys. "I'm pretty good at Connect Four."
I felt comfortable checking the time. "Maybe a game or two."
Doug reached for the container. There was a hint of a grin on his freckled face.
Yeah, he was one of the good ones.

* * *

Doug hadn't lied. He was killer at Connect Four, beating me three games straight. I frequently let patients win, but by the last match, I was putting my full effort into the game. He still trounced me, blocking my pieces time and again.
I congratulated him, told him it was time to go, and packed up the game.
We found his mother in the waiting room, sitting alone and leafing through an old edition of Entertainment Weekly. Desiree Belle was in her mid-thirties, but grief had eroded her youthfulness and left behind a woman who looked much older. She had limp, languid hair parted down the middle, haunted eyes, and she wore a dark jacket that hung like a sack over her thin frame. Her socks didn't even match.
Doug wasn't the only one in trouble.
Desiree Belle noticed us standing in the doorway. A smile erased some of the years. She rose and held out her arms. "How'd it go, honey?"
Doug slipped into her embrace. The hug didn't last long. "Pretty good. He wants me to come back next week."
"If that's okay with you," I said.
"I'll do whatever he needs." Her smile faded; the years returned. "Do you think you can help him?"
"He's bright. As long as he keeps working, I think we can do some good."
Desiree touched Doug’s shoulder. "He's the man of the house now. We need him to straighten up."
Oops, there went my red flags. "Can we talk for a moment, Mrs. Belle?" I pointed to the hallway. "In private."
"Sure, I guess." She turned to Doug. "Go have a seat, honey. I'll be right back."
I led her down the hallway, far enough from the waiting room so Doug couldn't hear us. Cheery watercolor prints hung on the walls. I doubted they would soften the blow of what I was about to say.
"Mrs. Belle—”
“Call me Dee Dee. Everyone does.”
“All right. Dee Dee, please keep in mind your son is only twelve. That's a difficult age. Couple it with the loss of his father and you can see what happens." I paused. "He's trying to cope with a lot right now. Too much, really, for him to process effectively. That's why he's here."
"I know all this," she said stiffly. "It’s why I’m getting him help."
"I think his school suggested the therapy, but that’s beside the point. What concerns me is your 'man of the house' statement. It puts unintended pressure on Doug. He'll want to please you; to prove he can live up to your expectations. The trouble is, he can't. He can't be a man when he's still a boy, and he needs to be a boy for a little while longer. You need to let him be a boy."
"Are you saying this is my fault? He's behaving like this because of me?"
"No, of course not. I just want you to understand that words carry power, and with them, consequences. Doug loves you very much. He'll want to make you happy. But for now he needs to focus on himself. Making him responsible for the family, even if it's just an off-hand comment, won't help."
Dee Dee Belle snugged her jacket more tightly over her shoulders, as if it were a shield against my words. A classic defensive gesture.
"I'm doing the best I can," she said. "I hadn’t planned on being a single mother."
"None of this is meant as an accusation. I'm simply looking out for your son's best interests."
"Fine, I'll watch what I say."
"Another thing." I lowered my voice. "I know this has been tough on everyone. If you don't mind, I'd like to give you the name of a colleague, a woman who specializes in grief counseling. I think she might be able to help you, and in the process, help you help Doug."
Her expression grew hard. I'd seen the same look on her son, not an hour ago. "You think I'm the one who needs a shrink."
"Everyone needs help from time to time. It's not a sign of weakness."
"I appreciate your concern, but I coping well enough. I don’t need to talk to someone."
Then she glanced at her watch, and I knew I’d lost her.
I stifled a sigh. Doug was my patient, not her, and I knew better than to push. I led her back to the waiting room.
"Will next week at the same time work for you?" I asked.
"I'll let you know." She grabbed her son by the arm and practically dragged him out of the waiting room.
Doug glanced over his shoulder and waved goodbye.