Psyched for Romance

Sports Romance & Romantic Suspense With a Psychological Twist

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Psychoanalyze Your Characters 4: PTSD

Onto our fourth installment of Psychoanalyze Your Characters, my attempt to share some psychological knowledge to help you flesh out your characters' psyches. Today I'll shift from Axis II to Axis I, focusing on the clinical syndrome of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. It's an anxiety disorder that some people develop after seeing or living through a threatening event. Most experience a "fight or flight" syndrome in response to a dangerous situation, but in PTSD this reaction is damaged and individuals feel threatened long after the danger subsides. Potential traumas include:
* Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional)
* Sudden, unexpected death
* Natural or human-caused disasters
* Personal assaults
* Military combat
* Accidents

I've seen PTSD develop after individuals have experienced sexual abuse, motor vehicle accidents, childhood bullying, domestic violence, and suicide of a loved one, to name a few. What's interesting is that a group of people might all experience trauma but only selected few develop PTSD. Some factors that increase the likelihood of PTSD include a history of anxiety, past losses, and lack of coping resources. Abuse survivors are more likely to experience PTSD when that abuse occurred at a young age, was frequent and intense, and was perpetrated by someone close to them charged with their care.

There are three groupings of symptoms in PTSD: distress, numbness, and avoidance.

Individuals typically alternate between states of high distress (reliving the traumatic event through flashbacks and nightmares, feeling on edge or "hypervigilant") and numbness (emotionally flat, exhausted). The distress taxes our systems so much that the body shuts down and goes into a dull state of fatigue at times.

The third symptom is avoidance of the trauma. For example, an individual who was sexually abused might avoid romantic relationships, because intimate situations remind her of the trauma. Or, a car accident survivor might not want to get into a car.

One of the best movies I've seen about PTSD is Fearless. The movie features Jeff Bridges and explores the aftermath of a horrific plane crash. If you watch it, keep the tissues handy.
Another good PTSD movie is The Prince of Tides (except for the part about the psychiatrist sleeping with her client's brother--why does the media always have to portray therapists sleeping with their clients? *winks*). At its most severe, abuse can result in a splitting off of oneself in order to cope with the trauma, resulting in dissociative disorders like Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder). Primal Fear and Sybil showcase this disorder.

Why do individuals with PTSD behave like they're in danger when they're not? A colleague explained it using a screen door metaphor which I thought was brilliant. Picture a screen door in your brain. When a stressful event happens to you, chemicals like adrenaline flow through the screen door and prepare you to handle the stress. However, when a trauma occurs, sometimes the chemicals scream through so fast that they bust a hole in the screen door. Now individuals are left with a hole in their screen door. The next time they experience something resembling a trauma (a "trigger"), the adrenaline rushes through the hole and they feel like they are re-living the trauma. Their heart races, they can't get air, they tremble, they freeze.

Treatment can be very effective for PTSD. Since the brain is living in the past, one strategy is to bring the brain to the present through using grounding skills. Individuals should use their five senses to anchor themselves in the present: "I see the painting on the wall. I hear the clock ticking. I feel the surface of the sofa beneath me." Deep breathing is essential. When we are very anxious our breathing becomes shallow and fast, and deep breaths help quell the cascade of the stress response.

Treatment also involves correcting dysfunctional beliefs that might have developed. The most common seems to be the belief "It was my fault" for abuse survivors. Because children are egocentric, they believe they alone are the cause of good and bad things that happen to them. As adults they need to learn that they are not to blame for the actions perpetrated by others. Therapy, specifically a technique called EMDR, might help individuals adopt a more functional belief like "I did the best I could."

We all experience stressful events and life is also full of trauma, so this disorder can provide a realistic and dramatic backdrop to your characters. Good luck!

Authors, c'mon and join our Meet an Author Monday Bloghop.
Readers, please hop from one blog to another. :-)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Psychoanalyze Your Characters 3

Thank you for joining me for our prior discussions about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder.

Today I'll cover the lesser-known Schizotypal Personality Disorder, which can be summed up in one word: odd.

People with Schizotypal Personality Disorder have bizarre mannersims and beliefs, and have trouble forming relationships. Unlike Schizoid Personality Disorder, individuals with Schizotypal PD want to connect with others, but their oddness and high social anxiety make that difficult. You might notice the similarity to the word Schizophrenia, but the perceptual disturbances and magical thinking of Schizotypal PD are not as intense or debilitating as in Schizophrenia.

Here are the criteria for Schizotypal Personality Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), published by the American Psychiatric Association. At least 5 must be met for the diagnosis:

* Incorrect interpretations of events, including a feeling that something innocuous has a direct personal meaning

* Odd beliefs or magical thinking that are inconsistent with cultural norms

* Unusual perceptions, including illusions

* Odd thinking and speech patterns

* Suspicious or paranoid thoughts, such as the belief that someone's "out to get them"

* Flat emotions, appearing aloof and isolated

* Odd, eccentric or peculiar behavior or appearance

* Lack of close friends or confidants other than relatives

* Excessive social anxiety that doesn't diminish with familiarity

I was thinking that "Doc" from Back to the Future might fit this diagnosis, but he's probably more manic than schizotypal. I was also wondering about "Martha" from Lisa Sanchez's novel Eve of Samhain but if she really IS a witch then I guess she's not Schizotypal. :-)

A character from one of my favorite movies (American Beauty) does seem to fit this diagnosis, though:
Ricky Fitts, played by Wes Bentley, is a social outcast. He nails the peculiar appearance and flat emotions of this disorder. Developmental risk factors for Schizotypal PD include a history of abuse and emotionally detached parents, and he has those factors in spades. 

What other characters can you think of that might fit this diagnosis?

I could cover another personality disorder in the next post but I might shift into some Axis I disorders like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or eating disorders. Do you have a preference?

Happy Holidays to you! Please join our Meet an Author Monday Blog Hop.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Interview with Author Belinda Kroll

It's a pleasure to interview Belinda Kroll, author of Haunting Miss Trentwood (see my review below).

Jennifer Lane (JL): How did you get hooked on historical novels?

Belinda Kroll (BK): First, thanks for having me! Now to answer your question... My mother had the Little House books and A Lantern in Her Hand in her small library... I picked them up when I was about six or seven and I never looked back. Those books emphasized the importance of honesty, integrity, loving people because they were good. I liked that.

JL: What are your biggest influences as a writer?

BK: Well, I grew up reading Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, and L.M. Montgomery, so they have forever influenced me and my penchant for historical fiction. However, I also read outside of the genre I write, which is why I'm a "quirky" historical fiction writer. I never know what genre I'll mash up with historical fiction next. I love Neil Gaiman, Jasper Fforde, Brandon Sanderson, Mary Jo Putney, Amanda Quick... the list goes on!

JL: Not only do you write, but you also have skills in computer programming and math. Your left and right hemispheres must get a constant workout! Have you always been interested in a wide range of areas? How is your career development going?

BK: I'm an artist, an engineer, and a design researcher. You're completely right, I have always been interested in a wide range of areas. In high school, my mother began calling me the modern renaissance woman because I had my hand in everything, and I do it fairly well.

In terms of my career development... I just graduated with my masters this past May, so I'm still determining what I want to do, professionally speaking. Right now I'm doing usability analysis, but who knows where I'll be in a year or two. I'm really young, professionally-speaking.

JL: I love the story about how your first novel, Catching the Rose, became published. Would you share that with us?

BK: Sure! So I began Catching the Rose when I was 11 years old. Seven years later, I had a novel that I felt was ready for publication. I had been following Writer's Digest since I was 13... first by borrowing the issues available from my library, and then I bought a subscription. So I knew about print-on-demand and subsidy publishing.

Given the fact that I wanted a book in hand by the time I gave my high school senior thesis presentation, I knew traditional publishing wasn't the way to go. It just takes too long! So I did my research online, my dad looking over my shoulder, and chose Aventine Press. My dad paid the fees to have the book published, and I had submitted a cover... but the publication process was pushed back a couple of weeks because the exterior and interior designer had a root canal. Apparently, he read my book while laid up in the hospital, and offered to give me a professionally designed cover for free to make up for the lost time!

JL: Now that I've read Haunting Miss Trentwood, I want to hear about the different teas you had at your signing and how they represented each character! And you also had coffin soaps for readers? :-)

BK: So I had three teas available, all provided by Ava Misseldine of Sugar Inc Tea and Cupcakes

The first was a roasted almond chai rooibos tea that represented Alexander Hartwell. He's a Beta Hero, through and through. The tea is comforting, with a slight kick in the pants to get something done. Mr. Trentwood, the ghost, is also represented by the tea for similar reasons even though they have different personalities and motivations.

The second tea, Cherry Whisper, represented Mary, the heroine. She is a solid English girl, sweet and loyal without being cloying, strong yet subtle.

The third tea, Shaman's Dream, was an herbal tea to represent Mrs. Durham, poor woman. She's a bit mad. And what better way to represent her than to pick a tea that has an unexpected combination of flavors that is delicious, but confusing.

And yes, I had coffin soaps bundled with the people who helped make the book happen. I got the soaps through the Etsy shop My Vintage Vanity. It was all kinds of brilliant and a lot of fun.

Thank you, Belinda. Now go read her marvelous Victorian ghost story!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review: Haunting Miss Trentwood by Belinda Kroll

Haunting Miss TrentwoodHaunting Miss Trentwood by Belinda Kroll

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Though I adored the movie Sense and Sensibility, I can’t proclaim to be a voracious reader of Jane Austen type books. However, I LOVED this Victorian ghost story!

Taking place in 1887 in the English countryside, the story begins when 26 year-old Mary Trentwood watches her father’s ghost climb out of his freshly dug grave and begin to boss her around like he did in his living form. Not only is Mary dealing with this frightening predicament, but also the only family member she has to help her with the failing estate is her cold aunt Mrs. Durham.

Soon after Mr. Trentwood’s death, Alexander Hartwell, a mysterious man with a scarred face and brusque personality, visits the estate. At first Mary believes he is her father’s dreaded solicitor but then it leaks out that Alexander is on a hunt for his sister’s blackmailer who is threatening the life of his young nephew. Might the blackmailer be living at the manor? Complicating factors is the arrival of Jasper Steele, a London hottie that Mary still swoons for despite her father’s clear disapproval.

My favorite part of this story is the characterization. These characters feel very real, full of calculation and doubts and flaws and genuine emotion. Mary Trentwood is a plucky, independent, slightly off-kilter lass who’d be just as content to rescue the hero as be rescued herself. Belinda Kroll paces the building relationship between Mary and Alexander just right, with Jasper’s butting in providing the perfect foil. It is such a wise choice to make Alexander scarred, and I enjoyed the intrigue of how he got the scar. Handsome yet caddish Jasper totally reminds me of one of my favorite characters from Sense and Sensibility: Willoughby. Mr. Trentwood starts off as a smug jerk but then it becomes clear how much he loves his daughter and is only trying to do what “father knows best”. Even the funny butler Pomeroy has depth.

Because of the restrained playfulness of the dialogue, I didn’t realize the true danger from the blackmailer until the threat suddenly springs to the forefront of the story. I rarely figure out the bad guy ahead of time in mysteries, and this story kept me in appropriate suspense.

This was a very fresh take on the familiar elements of paranormal phenomena, romantic triangles, and English society. Haunting Miss Trentwood kept me on my toes with a faint grin on my face. It is quite a pleasurable read!

Belinda Kroll and I are both authors in Columbus, Ohio, and I had the pleasure of meeting her. I was very impressed by her writing accomplishments at a relatively young age, and I look forward to reading her future novels!

Stay tuned for my interview with Belinda on Friday.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 13, 2010

Psychoanalyze Your Characters 2

Thank you for your great comments on the first post of this series about understanding psychopathology as a means of providing more depth for your characters. Today the focus is on Borderline Personality Disorder. I wanted to cover this diagnosis not only because Joanna St. James asked me to but also because I can sum up Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) in one word: DRAMA! What better traits can you achieve for your character?

The term "borderline" refers to the time in the early 1900's when individuals were diagnosed as either neurotic or psychotic, yet some patients seemed to be right in between: teetering on the borderline between neurotic and psychotic.

Which famous character is the poster child for BPD?

Bunnies boiling on the stove, anyone?
(Glenn Close's character in Fatal Attraction likely has Antisocial PD--criminal behavior--too).

For a discussion about BPD I must reference the brilliant work of Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy specifically for the treatment of BPD.

Emotional instability wreaks havoc for individuals with BPD, who have impairments in three main areas: emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and crisis management.

Emotional dysregulation: heightened emotional sensitivity, quick and intense emotions, wide mood swings, insecure self-image, often feeling empty or bad; heightened anxiety, depression, and anger. "I can't handle this feeling!"

Interpersonal ineffectiveness: turmoil in social life, love-hate relationships (idealizing people and thinking they are the scum of the earth), black-and-white thinking, intense fear of abandonment. "You're a bastard . . . but please don't leave me!"

Chaos and crisis: suicide attempts, self-injury (like cutting), engagement in impulsive and risky behaviors such as unsafe sex, compulsive spending, drug use, reckless driving, and gambling. "If you leave me I'll kill myself."

If you're feeling helpless and manipulated in a relationship, the other person might be exhibiting symptoms of BPD. So how does this exhausting, painful disorder develop?

Dr. Linehan's theory is that individuals with BPD experienced an invalidating environment as children. They are highly sensitive, perhaps starting as "difficult" babies and continuing with anxious or "touchy" temperaments. This sensitivity in itself is not a problem if the family can understand and nurture this special child. However, if family members are not as emotionally sensitive, they may have trouble with comprehension and acceptance, and may unwittingly reject the child, creating an environment that fosters BPD.

I like this theory because it doesn't blame the individual or the family, but rather the poor fit between the two. Family members often believe the loved one is choosing to "overreact" when in fact the individual is wired to feel emotions more intensely, and needs to develop skills to cope with this increased stress.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a skills-based approach, targeting the most destructive behaviors first and incorporation Eastern teachings like mindfulness.

Joanna asked a great question: "Can any of these disorders be treated without therapy?" As a therapist, I'd have to say that therapy is one of the best ways. But I don't want to be so narcissistic as to claim it's the only way. A psychiatrist would say that medication can assist with some symptoms of these disorders. A minister would say that faith is the way to heal. I just watched a fabulous movie, I've Loved You So Long, about a woman released after serving 15 years in prison for the death of her son. Instead of prison rehabilitating her, it was connecting with her sister and her family, new friends, and fine art that healed her. I think we can find healing in many different places.

So, how about you? Would you like to create a Teddi Forrester character in your novel? God help us!

Hey, it's Monday. Stop your booing and join our Meet an Author Monday Bloghop.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

2011 Romantic Suspense Challenge

One of my favorite genres is Romantic Suspense, so I'm excited to participate in this challenge!

Jamie from Nitty Gritty Romance and Erotica Reviews is hosting the 2011 Romantic Suspense Challenge.
The Rules:

1. Create a post for the challenge using the image above and link back to this post.
--Non-Bloggers: You are welcome to join too. Post your list of books in the comment section of the wrap-up post.
2. Sign up with the Mr. Linky.
--Link to your challenge post when you sign up please.
3. The goal of this challenge is to read AT LEAST 12 novels that are Romantic Suspense between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2011. Books read before January 1, 2011 do NOT count towards the challenge.
4. Audio, eBooks, paper all count. Re-reads are ok but try to keep them to a minimum. Cross overs from other challenges are ok.
5. There is no need to create your list now. Please feel free to use your challenge post to keep track of your titles if you so desire.

Here's a helpful list on Goodreads if you are looking for some ideas for titles.

I hope you'll join in on the challenge.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Psychoanalyze Your Characters

As a psychologist/author (or psycho author), I'm starting a series of posts today about using psychological diagnosis to assist the development of your characters. The typical layperson is probably more familiar with diagnoses like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, etc. -- what mental health professionals refer to as "Axis I" disorders. However, I'll focus on personality disorders, known as "Axis II".

Personality disorders are clinical syndromes with enduring patterns of inner experience and interactions with the world, with a typical age of onset in late adolescence or adulthood. Because these patterns are inflexible and interwoven into an individual's personality, they are more difficult to treat. The DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition) lists ten personality disorders. I plan to cover a few of my favorites, starting with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

The Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder as "a pattern of grandiosity (exaggerated claims of talents, importance, or specialness) in the patient's private fantasies or outward behavior; a need for constant admiration from others; and a lack of empathy for others."

The diagnosis refers to the Greek myth of Narcissus, a hunter with unparalleled beauty and pride. When he scorned the love of others, the gods punished him. Narcissus became entranced by his reflection in a pool of water, so much so that he was unable to leave and slowly pined away by the water until his death.

The lack of reflection (aka empathy) is so important to the development of this disorder. As children, we need empathy from our parents/caregivers. Here are some examples of empathic parents:

Child: "This is so unfair!"
Parent: "You're disappointed about this (and it's still going to happen)."

Child: "I hate you."
Parent: "You're angry with me."

Child: "I can fly!"
Parent: "You're so happy you believe you can fly!" (hopefully the child's not close to a ledge at this point).

The reflection provided above can teach children to label and accept their emotions, and to connect with others through expressing their emotions. What happens when parents repeatedly fail to provide empathy? At its most severe (neglect and abuse), narcissim can develop.

Child: "This is so unfair!"
Parent: "This is perfectly fair, stupid. How dare you complain about this when I'm taking time out of my busy schedule to make this happen. You kids just take and take, and don't care at all about what I've got on my plate."

Child: (crying)
Parent: "Stop that crying this instant, you little baby! Put a smile on that face or you'll be in big trouble."

How can a child provide empathy for others when he's never received it himself? As an adult he will constantly search for what's missing--that reflection and validation from others. He will build a carefully constructed outer shell that is egotistical and entitled. He will demand that others admire him. Naturally, others will feel frustrated by his apparent egotism and lack of caring, and will eventually shun him. When this happens, the outer hard shell crumbles, revealing an extremely insecure core. The narcissist is quite vulnerable to deep depression at this point.

Narcissists might pursue careers like acting and professional sports. They are likely drawn to acting since it provides that mirror they so desperately seek. Some actors may only feel whole when the audience is cheering and the paparazzi are snapping photos. Likewise, fans adore elite athletes, giving them a pass on misbehavior, as long as the athletes continue performing well.

I'm currently writing a story featuring a narcissist. He's a highly demanding boss and his underlings fear him more than respect him, making fun of him behind his back. When he's angry, he expects everyone to cater to his needs, and he is physically abusive to his children. His wife tolerates this ridiculous behavior because she has some features of Dependent Personality Disorder herself. (It's even more stimulating to create a romance based on several personality disorders!)

Thinking of fictional narcissists, Colonel Nathan Jessup from A Few Good Men comes to mind:

Eek! Do you have any characters with narcissistic traits? I hope this post is helpful to you in your characterization. What other psychological disorders would you like to learn about?

It's time for Meet an Author Monday Blog Hop! It's a great way for authors to network your blog.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Holiday Sale at Omnific Publishing!

Through the month of December, Omnific Publishing is having a holiday sale. Buy a print copy of With Good Behavior or any Omnific title, and get the e-book FREE!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Interview with Author Lisa Sanchez!

Well, I woke up to the first SNOW of the winter this morning in Ohio--a perfect time to cuddle up on my sofa and post my interview with Lisa Sanchez, author of paranormal romance Eve of Samhain (see my review below).

Jennifer Lane (JL): How did you start writing novels?

Lisa Sanchez (LS): I've always enjoyed telling stories. When I was younger, if I wasn't playing outside, I was in my room at my desk imagining goofy stories. I enjoy a good laugh, and have always tried to incorporate humor in whatever I write, even at a young age.

JL: What's been the most difficult part of your journey to publication?

LS: This question made me laugh. The answer is easy: patience. I've had to learn how to be patient, and it's been quite difficult. I'm an instant gratification girl, and with publishing the motto is "hurry up and wait." I'm not sure if there is anything easy about getting your manuscript published. The writing, the editing, submitting ... all of that takes a lot of hard work and determination. Those things, though difficult at times, are what makes the journey as a whole rewarding.

JL: What led to your interest in paranormal romance?

LS: I've always had a fascination with vampires. Even before Edward Cullen, lol! However, when The Twilight saga hit the bookstores, I was a goner. I devoured the first three books in a week and waited very impatiently for the fourth. While waiting I discovered J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series and that was it for me. I was hopelessly addicted.

JL: I attended Notre Dame for grad school so I particularly enjoyed the Irish flavor of this novel. What led to your interest in Irish folklore?

LS: While I love vampires, I knew I wanted to write something different. I did a web search for mythical creatures and found the legend of The Gancanagh. The idea of a sexy male faerie with an addictive touch was too awesome not to explore. The fact that the legend is part of my Irish heritage was a bonus. And really, what woman doesn't enjoy a sexy Irish accent? Woohoo!

JL: I was intrigued by the snarky tone of the novel. Does that represent your voice, or is it more specific to Ryann and Quinn?

LS: Hee hee, the snark is all me. Well, I should say a combination of me and my oldest daughter, Kendall. Quite a few of Ryann's one liners are things that regularly run through my head on any given day. Scary!

JL: I understand that Eve of Samhain is the first novel in the Hanaford Park series. What's the status on forthcoming novels in that series?

LS: Yes, EOS is the first in what I hope will be a four book series. Book two, tentatively titled Pleasures Untold is slated to release in February of 2011. Just around the corner! I'm a little over half way through with book three, and that's really all I can say on that one. I don't want to spoil anything!

JL: Any other projects you're working on?
LS: Not at the moment. Between edits for Pleasures Untold, revisions I just completed for a romantic suspense that's on submission, and book three, I've been pretty busy. I do have a few ideas popping around inside my head, but I'm holding onto them for a while. I'd like to finish book three before I start anything new.
Breaking News: Lisa just signed a contract for her romantic suspense novel! Check out her blog for details.
Thank you for spending some time with me, Lisa. I look forward to reading Pleasures Untold!

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