A Peek Into My Past

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post called “Are You Bailey?” In it, I stated an intension to start speaking more openly about my own history of child abuse. It’s my hope to start creating a safe space for all of us to discuss things like trauma and mental health openly. 

However, shortly after publishing that post, the work required to finish Mailboat V on schedule completely devoured my time and attention. And now, here I am a year later, finally returning to that original intention.

But something I’ve learned in the meantime is just how hard it actually is for me to talk about my own traumas—a fact that took me by surprise.

I don’t remember it being this hard.

“There’s Something You Should Know About Me…”

When I first emerged from my life of abuse, I was so messed up, that concealing my past wasn’t an option. I would do and say things that were so bizarre, my best option was simply to be honest.

“Oh, my God!” a friend once exclaimed as she scrolled her phone. “I just found a playlist of hits from the nineties.” She grinned at me, eyes twinkling. “Wanna take a stroll down memory lane?”

“Sure,” I said. “I’d love to know what was on the radio when I was a kid.”

My friend stared at me, slack-jawed. The longer she stared, the more she realized I was serious.

I shrugged. “I basically grew up under a rock. Things like radio and TV and movies were pretty heavily monitored. So, I literally don’t know what was popular when I was a kid.”

Her expression went from incomprehension to sympathy. “You poor thing!”

She and our other friends then rattled off a list of generation-defining movies, and I confirmed I’d never seen them.

She gripped the arms of her chair, a horrific thought crossing her mind. “Did you ever see The Lion King?”

I shook my head. “Nope.”

Turns out, them’s were fightin’ words.

That entire friend group immediately took it upon themselves to show me as many movies as possible, and the more likely they were to have been banned during my childhood, the higher they went on the list. From Jurassic Park to Gladiator to Fight Club to The Godfather, my friends gave me a proper cinematic education.

Rounding out that education, we also played a lot of Cards Against Humanity so I could finally quit embarrassing myself with unintended innuendos—a problem that had haunted me for years. When I say I grew up under a rock, I really mean it.

For some reason, being bluntly honest about my past never used to be that hard. But when I moved to Montana six years ago, I took it as an opportunity to start fresh. I didn’t want to be defined by my abuse. I wanted to know who I was aside from the abuse, if I was anything at all.

By then, I’d assimilated into modern American culture well enough that I no longer needed to explain a bunch of non-stop social oddities. And so, I only began to bring up my past when it felt particularly relevant. I now made friends who sometimes knew me for years before they ever heard my backstory—and that felt normal and nice.

Moving on was a good choice. I’d probably be content for that to remain the status quo, if it weren’t for the fact that I’m also an author, and I now have an ever-growing audience.

The topics of abuse, trauma, and mental health will always be central to me as a person, whether or not I choose to talk about them, and whether I choose to do so openly or through the lens of fiction.

But as my following grows, I find myself asking what I should be doing with the opportunity given to me. And I think about all the people still suffering from abuse and trauma, and the work we still need to do to normalize taking care of our mental health. And then the road before me is clear.

That doesn’t make it easy.

“It Didn’t Use to Be This Hard”

Last year in the winter, my brother Robert and I decided to bring a few members of the family together specifically to discuss our child abuse and get answers to some questions that were still unresolved. The family gathering consisted of me and my boyfriend Charles, my brother and his wife, and our aunt and uncle, who had worked hard to advocate for my brother and me when we were kids.

We each told our stories and compared notes. Our aunt and uncle learned more about what went on behind closed doors. They, in turn, explained things Robert and I were too little to know about, and things that had happened before we were even born. Our significant others, meanwhile, got a deeper understanding of why Robert and I sometimes have inexplicable reactions to odd things.

And my brother and I kept triggering forward repressed memories for each other—information our own brains had sequestered from us in a desperate bid to forget things that would have destroyed us even worse than we already were.

In fairness, we’ve been doing that for each other for a long time.

“Do you remember the time I tried to explain unconditional love to our mom and step-dad?” Robert asked me once in a phone call.

“Yes,” I said. “I remember their response, too.”

Robert got quiet. “You do?” Clearly, he didn’t. “What did they say?”

I could remember it like it was yesterday. As often happens with traumatic memories, I could remember bizarre little details, too, like the antique green chair my mother sat in, and the herringbone pattern in the brick hearth, where I liked to sit. I could remember the desperation on my teenage brother’s face as he begged his parents to simply love him.

Well, he’d asked for the memory. So I gave it to him. “They said they believed in tough love—that if someone in the family wasn’t living up to the standards, that person should be ostracized until they conformed.”

The other end of the line went silent for several moments. “No wonder I don’t remember that,” my brother finally said.

I wasn’t surprised. I couldn’t think of any clearer way for our parents to tell their son that his best efforts to please them were never good enough.

At my aunt and uncle’s house, I was shocked how freaking hard it was to talk about the things that had happened. When it was my turn to speak, I was trying to do so normally—and outwardly, I was probably pulling it off.

But the muscles in my shoulders and limbs were shaking and locking stiff. My heart was pounding. I was, in fact, hyperventilating—but I’ve done so much public speaking by now, I know how to hide that.

Charles was aware I wasn’t okay. (Because he’s awesome.) At the end of our family conversations, he’d hold me close and rub my stiff shoulders, trying to chase away the fight-or-flight response, trying to remind me that that was then, this is now, and the abuse is over.

“Talking about it didn’t use to be this hard,” I’d whisper into his shoulder.

I’m not sure what’s changed. All I know is that overcoming trauma is not a battle; it’s a war. Some days you gain ground. Other days, you lose it. Every day, you keep fighting—knowing that if you don’t, you will succumb to the darkness that has been trying all along to claim you.

My Safe Space

After our family weekend, it became apparent to me that talking about my traumas in a public format was going to be harder than I’d thought, and doing so was going to take practice.

Fortunately, the right opportunity presented itself. Through no intentional design, my Patreon page somehow organically evolved into my safe space to practice talking about trauma.

As I posted chapters from Mailboat V, the fans and I started having deep conversations about the story, and I began revealing the bits that came out of my own personal experiences—things that eventually evolved into Bailey’s experiences and Tommy’s experiences, etc.

It helped that my following on that platform was so small. We could have some really personal conversations, and I felt safe telling my story.

The fear, the triggers, and the involuntary trauma responses haven’t gone away. In one post, I explained how my do-or-die motivation to meet my deadline for Mailboat V was actually trauma-based. For the first time, I got specific with my fans about one of the most common, recurring abuses I endured at my mother’s hands: If I did something that displeased her, she would devote hours to enumerating a laundry list of things I’d done wrong, of ways I’d disappointed her.

Yes, hours. I know, because the only way I survived those one-sided conversations was by detaching from the current reality and watching the clock over her head.

While I described that experience to my Patrons, my vision narrowed. My body shook. My muscles tried to lock up. My heart pounded. My breath turned shallow and rapid.

My body was convinced the memories were the present reality.

But I pushed through.

Why?

Because trauma flourishes in the dark. The more I talk about it, the more I rob it of its power over me, through intentional desensitization; the more I rob it of its power over other people, through providing access to information.

If I Can Help One Person…

Yes, it’s my intention to speak more frequently and openly about abuse, trauma, and mental health.

But it’s going to be hard. I’m gradually working myself up to it. I know that Patreon is my safe space right now. The wider world probably isn’t. Sooner or later, someone somewhere will say something that will shake me down to my foundations again. Or someone might twist my words to use against me.

But I want to do it anyway. Because if I can help one person who’s experienced abuse or trauma, then everything I’ve ever been through will have been worth it.

I’ve already heard from many people who were helped by my books or by my few baby steps into speaking about abuse and trauma.

So, it’s already been worth it.

And so, I’m going to keep going.

You’re always welcome to ask me about my experiences, online or in-person at my events. You’re welcome to tell me about yours, as well. These are conversations I want to have.

In a future post, I’m hopeful to write some kind of summary of what exactly went on during my childhood.

But I’ve been trying for a year, and I’m still not sure how to do it.

“Well,” Robert said once, “if the author in the family doesn’t know how to put words around our experiences, I don’t feel so bad anymore.”

Accurate. So far, it’s been far easier to re-interpret my experiences as fiction.

But I’m going to keep trying. Thanks to all of you who are trying to listen. I appreciate you.

~ Danielle


Writing the Climax of Mailboat V… with the Lake Geneva PD!

Currently, I’m writing like a mad woman, trying to wrap up an epic climax sequence for Mailboat V. Guys, I think even *I* underestimated how epic it’s gonna be.

So, earlier this week, I enlisted the aid of my friends Sergeant Jason Hall and Lieutenant Ed Gritzner of the real-life Lake Geneva Police Department to draw from their expertise.

To be honest, I used to feel guilty about asking them to take time away from their real-life duties just to make-believe with me.

And then came the day Ed and I were working through the climax sequence for Mailboat III: The Captain’s Tale.

“One last question,” I said. “Where would you set up your command post?”

“The parking lot of the state park,” he said.

I thanked him for his time, and we hung up.

Two minutes later, he called me back. “I change my mind. The parking lot at the state park is too close to the action. Let’s put it at the middle school.”

I laughed, even as I updated my notes. The way he called me back so fast–he was acting like this was real.

And then I realized… he was basically treating my climax sequence like a training scenario.

Scenario training is something emergency personnel do in real life—and they make it as authentic as possible. The below photo isn’t a real car accident; it’s a training scenario I attended in 2016, put on at an event called the Writers Police Academy.

They pulled out all the stops for this, even landing a helicopter to carry away one of the “patients.” The entire thing unfolded as if it were real, and gave the emergency personnel involved a chance to practice their skills and use their equipment. That way, next time it is real, they’re ready.

Now that I equate my fictional emergencies with scenario training, I don’t feel so guilty about asking Jason and Ed for their time. And frankly, they’re usually delighted to help. (I keep having to remind myself that other people find authors cool.)

And after all the emergencies I’ve written into the Mailboat Suspense Series… you should feel very safe in Lake Geneva. I’ve prepped your PD for the literal worst, LOL.

But for the climax sequence of Book V… I might have thrown them a doozey.

When working through these “scenarios,” I’ll start by telling Ed and Jason what information they have at their disposal, and they’ll in turn tell me how they’d respond, what tactics and resources they’d deploy, etc.

Let me just say, the climax of Book V has a lot of moving parts–what my cop friends would call “a dynamic situation.” From an author’s perspective, I’m rotating between quite a few points of view, as well as multiple, constantly-changing locales; and in real time, everything would be unfolding in a matter of minutes. This scenario is pulling in more law enforcement officers than I even have names and call signs for. (Random name generators have been my friend. Don’t worry, I only use the good ones, and I lean towards German surnames, cuz southeast Wisconsin, amiright?)

How big is the climax sequence for Mailboat V? I think Jason’s reaction sums it up best:

I gave him the opening scenario. In response, he established a perimeter and sent in additional units.

I threw him a hard left.

“Oh, shit,” he said. “I lose my job.” Despite his initial pessimism, he adjusted quickly, creating an inner perimeter and calling in additional resources.

I gave him another hard left.

“Oh, God.” He considered a moment, then asked—hopeful, almost begging— “Is my outer perimeter in place yet?”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him… probably not.

Jason’s most frequent comment throughout the scenario? “It would be chaos… It would be chaos…”

LOL. I have too much fun with these books.

Also, don’t get any ideas about calling the LGPD so you can grill Sergeant Hall or Lieutenant Gritzner for spoilers. I haven’t even told them everything–like, the final, final showdown, which I felt confident to write without their input. In fact, I didn’t even tell them which characters were involved.

“I’m trying to think who’s who in this scenario,” Ed admitted.

Secretly? I’m really hoping to blow their minds once they read it.

So… Definitely tired over here from all the last-minute writing. Definitely feeling like my arm’s about to fall off. Definitely wish the writing was done already. And definitely watching the calendar and observing that this release is going to be down-to-the-wire.

But that’s pretty typical, TBH. I have no idea how I manage to release a book every year. Magic is real.

But now that the climax sequence is finally coming together… I’m more certain than ever that this could be my favorite book so far. If you haven’t reserved your pre-order yet, better get it in now! Or come meet me at one of the book signings on the 2022 Lake Geneva Book Tour. When you see me, you’ll know I put 110% into this release.

~ Danielle

P.S., if you want to help me over the finish line in a very real way… you can buy me a coffee! I can’t tell you how much that lifts my spirits, warms my heart, and fuels my writing.


Private Events Available!

Danielle will be on book tour in the Lake Geneva area August 13th – 21st, 2022, to celebrate the release of Mailboat V!

Interested in hosting a private event so she can meet your book club, social club, friends group, etc.? Get in touch now to schedule a date, location, and time!

Danielle can host an exclusive reading, Q&A, and signing for your group, or simply sit down to visit. She’ll bring books to sell and autograph, and she shows up for wine!

Ask about Scheduling Danielle

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