A Cruise Into the Past – Starting with Mailboat I!


Have you always wanted to know how the Mailboat Suspense Series got started?

    • No, I didn’t grow up in Lake Geneva.
    • No, I wasn’t a mail jumper.
    • However, I did start developing the story while I was trapped in a life of emotional abuse and depression that nearly led to suicide… and creating this story helped me survive.

By popular demand of my fans over on Patreon, we’re going back to the very beginning of the Mailboat Suspense Series for the ultimate Story Behind the Story—starting with Mailboat I: The End of the Pier.

If you’ve been thinking about whether or not to give my Patreon a try, this is a once-in-a-lifetime moment to climb aboard. I’ve made the first two posts open to the public just so you can sample what we’re all about.

What Is Patreon?

I created my Patreon page in response to the most frequent complaint I hear from my fans: Waiting for the next book to come out!

My Patrons get some incredibly cool perks:

    • Access to every chapter I write, the minute I’m done writing it
    • Book Club Questions to discuss every chapter together
    • Behind-the-Scenes posts revealing details like my inspiration, writing process, and thoughts and feelings behind every moment in the story

A lot of my current Patrons followed along as I wrote Mailboat V, and they now know the Mailboat Suspense Series on a crazy intimate level. They’re currently waiting, breathless, to repeat the experience with Mailboat VI.

Why Are We Launching This Cruise Into the Past?

Right now, I’m wading into the lengthy but vital planning, research, and outlining phase for both Mailboat VI and Mailboat VII, and it’ll be a while before I have new chapters to release for the Patrons.

We were all sad about letting our community go dormant. In addition to the delights of reading and exploring the story together, we’ve created an incredibly tight-knit community around our passions for reading, Lake Geneva, and creating a safe space to discuss mental health.

Rebecca—both my untiring publicist as well as one of my loyal Patrons—had an idea. (Yes, another one. It’s like a garden spigot that doesn’t turn off.)

She suggested we could go back to Mailboat Book I and explore the very beginning of the Mailboat Suspense Series together.

I put it to a vote for the Patrons—and they approved it unanimously.

Schedule of Activities

Approximately once a week, I’m going to re-release a chapter from Mailboat I, followed by Book Club Questions to help the readers go even deeper into the experience.

My Patrons say they’re looking forward to the excuse to re-read the series, as well as to learn what their fellow readers think of each moment of the story.

With every chapter, I’ll also include a Behind-the-Scenes Post telling the story behind the story. And I’m planning to go deep. 

Way deeper than I’ve ever gone before.

If you’ve been to one of my readings, you may think you know the backstory.

But there’s more.

Patreon has become my safe space to talk about my own experiences with trauma and abuse, and my own mental health journey. And if we’re going to talk about the very beginning of the Mailboat Suspense Series… we’re going to talk about some of the darkest times of my life…

But most importantly, the beauty that grew out of the ashes.

That first behind-the-scenes post is live now, and it’s free.

More Than Complimentary Soaps and Shampoos

The first chapter has already released, and it includes a lot:

    • The Prologue of Mailboat I: The End of the Pier
    • A sample audiobook narration of the prologue, performed by my former Montana employee, the amazingly talented Nathaniel Brown
    • Book Club Questions to launch the discussion with our online book club
    • A Behind-the-Scenes Post talking about how I encountered the idea for the Mailboat Suspense Series in the first place—and what my life was really like at the time. (Spoiler: It was pretty freaking awful.)

All of that is available now—and yes, I made it available to the public  for free as a sample of everything we do over on Patreon. If you’ve been waiting for an excuse to give my Patreon page a try, I can’t think of a more ideal time to come aboard.

We can’t wait to welcome you to this deeper-than-ever Cruise Into the Past. It’s almost summer, and the water is fine. Come join us!

~ Danielle

Angel Is Four!

Big news, y’all: Angel just turned four!

Obviously, I had to share the adorable puppy photos—but I also wanted to share why I’ve been looking forward to her fourth birthday ever since I got her, and why I named her Angel.

Here’s the first time Angel and I ever met. She was only four weeks old! She had lots of siblings, and I didn’t know yet that this puppy was going to be my puppy. Rather, this was the day I decided I wanted to do business with this particular breeder. Regardless, I’m delighted I have such an early photo of me and Angel.

Three weeks later, we met again, and this time I was there to select my puppy. The breeder brought them out a few at a time. Angel was in the first batch. She wore a teal ribbon.

While her siblings romped and played, the puppy with the teal ribbon planted her tail under the dining room table and observed the chaos from a distance. Her siblings tried to pull her into the fun, but she refused. I found her crabby, stand-offish attitude adorable.

Even as the breeder added more and more puppies to the pile, I found my eye returning consistently to the aloof one.

“I think that’s the one,” I finally admitted.

The woman grinned knowingly. “It’s usually the first one you were drawn to.”

I picked up the puppy with the teal ribbon, and—well, you can see for yourself whether I made the right choice.

“What are you going to name her?” the breeder asked.

As I held my puppy, whom I would bring home in a week, I realized that the name I’d had in mind was, in fact, the right name.

“Angel,” I said.

I had a dog before Angel. Her name was Molly. Molly and I met when I was volunteering at my local humane society, back when I lived in North Dakota. Ever since I was a little girl, I’d dreamed of owning a Golden Retriever. But Molly expressed to me in no uncertain terms that she was my dog.

She was half German Shepherd, half Rottweiler. And she was right; she was meant to be my dog. Swiftly, we became soulmates, and everyone at the shelter knew it.

I eventually brought her home with me—back when “home” was still with my mother and step-father. By that time, they had been emotionally and psychologically abusing me for over twenty years, using homeschooling to keep me isolated during my childhood and guilt to keep me obedient even into adulthood. Even though they had spent a lifetime creating obstacles that would make it difficult for me to finally step out on my own—brainwashing, gaslighting, and belittling high on that list—I still wasn’t aware that what was going on was abuse. I thought we had our differences, but I had fallen to the careful conditioning that it was my sole duty to make my mother happy.

Molly was my bedrock during that time. She was the only living thing who knew how to love me—freely and unconditionally—and the only living thing I loved in return.

She saved my life in more ways than one.

One day in my mid-twenties, I stood on the edge of a bridge, staring into a river. I had grown increasingly frustrated with the obstacles my parents put between me and my own adulthood—making it hard for me to get a driver’s license and shooting down every career idea I thought of pursuing. I was desperate for a way out, but they were blocking my paths. I asked myself why I shouldn’t jump. I went down a list of reasons to keep on living, but none of them mattered to me anymore. Not even my dream of becoming a writer. My characters felt cold and unreachable to me—and that’s when I knew I was in trouble. I was now fighting daily with suicidal ideation—and this, at last, looked like the moment.

The pull to simply end my life and my misery felt like sweet relief—and I had nothing with which to fight back against the overwhelming desire.

Until I thought of Molly.

I couldn’t abandon her. Without me, she would probably live with my mother, where love was only dished out in response to how happy you kept her.

I’d had a cat who was old and dying. My mother had found her illness inconvenient. When I wasn’t home, she locked my cat in a cold basement room, alone—despite the fact that my cat was now tiny and frail and incapable of regulating her own body temperature.

I couldn’t abandon Molly to a life like that.

Instead of jumping, I collapsed beside the bridge railing, crying. And then I picked myself up and swore once again that I would find a way out for Molly and me.

Eventually, I did. In the end, it was simple: I let go of the all-consuming need to keep my mother happy. I did what was right for me.

The relief I felt to be in my own apartment, forty miles from “home,” was immense. But so was the healing process ahead of me. As I came face-to-face with the trauma and abuse I had endured, I fell into depression and anorexia. During that time, I once went an entire month eating nothing but a glass of juice for breakfast and a cup of yogurt for supper.

I finally reached out for help. I admitted to new neighbors, who were concerned about me, that I wasn’t all right. They took me in like their own daughter. They told me I should go to therapy, and I did. They had me over for dinner almost every night and in doing so, ensured I had at least one square meal a day. I found a doctor who walked me out of anorexia.

But the person who most helped me to overcome my eating disorder was Molly. She figured out that she got to lick the plate when I was done. If, at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, I wasn’t in the kitchen cooking, then like clockwork, Molly position herself in the kitchen doorway.

“Awrrrooo!” she would howl in her deep baritone, and finish it with a snort and a shake of her head.

She would maintain this eager protest until I got up and filled a plate. While I ate, she sat right by my side. As soon as I was done, she cleaned my plate, eyes bright with joy.

And so, she saved my life again. She didn’t even know everything she was doing to help me. I was blessed with an extensive support network at the time. But Molly was the coach who, paws on the ground, enforced better eating habits for me three times a day. Eventually, those habits became my norm, and I can say that I’ve beat anorexia, thanks to her.

Molly and I eventually moved to Montana, where we became mountain adventurers and added Charles to our pack.

Molly decided that Charles was worthy of my affection, and that he was the right person to eventually carry the torch for her. She was, by now, an old dog.

She was remarkably active in her senior years, and I’d assumed I’d have much longer with her.

When her health did turn for the worse, she declined rapidly.

We took her to the vet on a particularly bad day. We agreed to try to make her comfortable and run some tests. I kissed her good-bye, well aware that it could be our last good-bye. Molly looked at me with worried eyes, and I knew what she was afraid of.

She knew something was wrong with her, but she was refusing to abandon me—just as I had refused to abandon her.

So I leaned down and whispered in her ear. “It’s okay to let go. I love you, and there isn’t a day we spent together that I regret. But when you get to the other side, you still have one more job to do for me.”

From where she lay on the exam table, she looked up into my eyes intently, listening.

“I need you to help me find my next dog,” I said. “Because I don’t know where to start.” Filling Molly’s pawprints was going to be no small undertaking.

Molly got a determined look in her eye, the way she did whenever I gave her a task. She knew what she had to do. She could now look ahead without fear—even though we both knew what lay that direction.

Charles and I went home. Later, I decided to go to my office to distract myself.

As I was driving, I felt my heart pound three times hard—followed by a sense of release and relief. Five minutes later, my vet called to say that Molly had passed.

“I know,” I said, crying.

I spent the rest of the day thinking about her, mourning her passing, and thanking her for the life-changing time we’d had together.

The next day, I told Charles I wanted another dog.

“Oh, good,” he said. “I was trying to figure out how to tell you—you need a dog.”

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I turned most of the American Northwest upside down in my search. Humane societies, German Shepherd rescues, breeders—I explored them all. I eventually decided to get a puppy, because their ever-developing personality would prevent me from unfairly comparing them to Molly. In the end, I was surprised to settle on a breeder only a few hours from home.

“What are you going to name her?” the breeder asked as I cuddled my new puppy.

“Angel,” I said.

Because what else do you name a puppy your last dog sent to you from the other side?

Aside from looks, Angel is nothing like Molly. Where Molly was stoic and wise, Angel is a goof who still embraces her puppy-like shenanigans. The Rottweiler side of Molly’s heritage tempered her energy. Angel is pure German Shepherd (and a descendent of a world champion in Schutzhund, to boot), so she is all go all the time.

However, Angel still likes to sit and stare when she feels overwhelmed, confused, or merely curious—the same as when she was seven weeks old. And slowly, her innate protective instinct is maturing. She’s learning that she doesn’t have to bark her head off at every new person. I’m teaching her Molly’s ways—that a shared glance will tell me all I need to know.

Today, both Angel and my cat Fergus are designated as my Emotional Support Animals, meaning they’re recognized as a key element of my mental healthcare, and any rental where Charles and I might hope to live are required to allow them.

Angel and Fergus both excel at their jobs. When the depression and anxiety are so overwhelming I can’t get out of bed, they curl up with me, their bodies touching mine for comfort. Fergus heads up reminding me that I should eventually get up and feed the both of them. Angel is in charge of outdoor playtime and daily sunshine—and, as noted, shenanigans.

And now, Angel is four—the same age that Molly was when she and I met. Somehow, this birthday feels extra special.

So, Happy Birthday, Angel.

And thank you, Molly, for helping me find her. You did a good job.

Books 1-3:

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.


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