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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Harelip is a dirty word.

I have been wanting to write this post for a very long time. A few years ago, I wrote a book called The Snake Pit: Jr. High Can Be Torture. It tells the story of a young girl, Cinda, who was born with a cleft lip and palate. Because she looks different, she is bullied, literally to death. I wrote this story, because I, too, was  born with the same defect. This is what I looked like when I was born.
This is not a actual baby picture of me. In fact, there are no baby pictures of me that exist.   

Let's face it, this is not the face of a baby you rush off to the photographer every few weeks. At least not in the 60's when I was born. In fact, I didn't even go home with my parents until I was 6 months old. Imagine what it must have been like for my mother,
People have a great misconception about people with cleft palates. I've had people assume that I am mentally challenged, without ever talking to me. I have had people point and stare. I have had people refer to me as a monster on occasion. None of these people knew me, or wanted to know, these were just assumptions of strangers. 

Of all the names I have been called in my life, by far the most hurtful one is Harelip. People toss that word about as if it is just a common term for a cleft palate. It is not. It is an insult. Let me illustrate. 
This is a hare. I do not look like this.

This is what I look like. See the difference?

Let me put it another way. Think back to the last time you said the word Harelip. Perhaps you were just describing someone you saw on the street. Can you think of a time where you ever heard someone use that word as a compliment? I can tell you right now...NO. For me, two words are taboo in my vocabulary. Harelip and the N-word. I don't use them and I don't allow anyone to use them in my presence. Both are derogatory, hateful words, never spoken in a complimentary manner, and, therefore, should be banned from the english language permenantly. I cringe when I hear those two word casually tossed about when I know from experience just how deeply it hurts. 

I am 48 years old. I am a wife, a mother, and an author. Tomorrow I will go to the hospital for yet another recontructive surgery. How many have I had? People ask me that all the time. The truth is, there have been so many, that I lost track years ago.  I can ballpark it. Figure 1 or 2 a year til I was 18. Let's say 25..conservatively. I had 3 surgeries when I was 21, another in my 30's and tomorrow I will go in for what may be my final one. This scares me. It scares me because I know it will not be "right". What I come out looking like tomorrow will be what I will look like for the rest of my life. 
Will it be good enough. It will for the people who love me. For the people who don't know me, probably not. But, I learned a long time ago, not to live for those people, only to live for myself. 

So, the next time you stare at someone with a facial defect, or laugh, or call them some derogatory name. Stop. Stop and think about what they have possibly been through to try and be what you consider to be "normal". All the pain, the tears, the prayers and the wishful thinking they have been through. Think before you tear all that down with one hateful word.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Goodbye Winter...Hello Spring!

I don't have good luck writing in the winter. I'm okay up until Thanksgiving, but, after that...poof! All muse and ambition just flies out the window. Cabin fever? Possibly, though I have never had an issue with being cooped up during the cold season. Being cooped up with the kids is a whole different story. My kids like to be gone. They like hanging with their friends and swimming in the pool and enjoying the sunshine past 5 p.m. I can't concentrate with them all here.

December: worst month of the year for me (writing wise). Kids are all home, all the time. Christmas shopping, Christmas baking, Christmas parties, and, of course, Christmas. It's cold, it's snowing, nobody can find their boots, (coats, hats, gloves). Forget it, I'm lucky if I can write a shopping list successfully.

January: Once I've recovered from New Year's Eve, there are Christmas decorations to put away.(who can concentrate with all those colorful blinking lights anyway?) It's drab, it's cold, it's snowy. School is back in session and everyone, including me, is crabby. Football season ends and that brings a whole new level of sadness knowing I won't see another game until pre-season starts in August. And August is light-years away from January. I can't concentrate.

February: Still cold, still dreary, still snowing. Stupid Groundhog lets me down once again. I should write. Screw it, I'd rather take a nap.

You may be wondering if there is a point to this line of babble. Well, in fact, there is. A month ago, probably not, but it's March, the weather has broken and I have had an epiphany thanks to Mr. Stephen King, my personal hero and horror writer extraordinaire.

In a recent interview, King said that to be a serious writer you must write every day. Every day. I realized then that what I'd been doing is making excuses. No matter the weather, the chaos, the complete upheaval your life is in, a writer writes...always.

I read those words a few weeks ago and from that day on, I have sat down to write every day. The chapters are coming together and I am churning out pages at a rate I have never done before. And it is an amazing feeling. It feels like Spring.

So, no more excuses. A writer writes...always.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

My Reason Why.

I was told by a very wise person to write what I know. Unfortunately, I have a great deal of knowledge on the subject of bullying and how much bullying can affect one's life. We all know that bullying a a hot-button topic these days, but for those of us who lived through this torture, day in and day out, this is not a bandwagon we're jumping on, it's something that we, as victims, feel very strongly about. This is why I wrote and published my novella, The Snake Pit: Jr. High Can Be Torture. 
Now, for those of you who haven't read this little gem of a book, shame on you, and you might want to stop reading this post right now, for there will be spoilers. 

Now, The Snake Pit is written in a very different way, for a very specific purpose. It's written from the point of view of all involved, in interview form. I did this to show how different people can all see the same thing, yet interpret it in a totally different way.
The Bully:  Sees nothing wrong with what she's doing. She's beautiful, popular and entitled.
The Best Friend:  Sees exactly what's going on and tries desperately to get someone to listen.
The Teachers:  All see what's happening, but figure "kids will be kids"  Ignore it and it will all go away.
The Principal: Refuses to see what's right in front of him. Protects the bully, rather than the victim.
The classmates:  All see what's happening, thankful that they are the not the ones being bullied. All stand by and say nothing.
This is not a feel-good story. You will not walk away after reading this with a restored faith in  your fellow man. What I hope people take from this story is a little bit of awareness. Some compassion, perhaps, and the knowledge that bullying is not a "kids-will-be-kids" problem anymore. Bullying can cause long-term damage, damage that, unfortunately, cannot be repaired. Frankly, it's war on our nations children, and children shouldn't have to die because they don't fit in.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

"Working" from Home

I am a writer. I have written and published 5 books in 3 years, 2 of which are children's books that I fully illustrated myself...and I work from home.

People don't understand the whole working from home thing. By choice, I write late at night, when everyone else is asleep. It's quiet, the phone isn't ringing, there is nobody asking me where this is or that is, even the animals are asleep. A single chapter or illustrated page can take 7 or 8 hours to complete start to finish. 8 hours of sitting at a computer trying to get a story to meld and make sense, or drawing and re-drawing an illustration and adding layers upon layers of color and shading to make it look as perfect as possible. This makes for wonderful things like eye strain, headaches, sore muscles, (you remain hunched over a drafting table or a computer screen for hours upon hours and see if your body isn't stiff afterward, I dare you.)

And then there is sleep. Usually I fall asleep around 4 am and I get up at 6 am to get the kids off to school. Then I feed myself, catch up on the news, answer the phone that rings a thousand times and do the dishes. And then there's marketing. The UGLY side of being an author. These books don't sell themselves. Posting promos on facebook, twitter, lineked-in...giveaways, discount days, blogging. Reading and reviewing other authors so they will read and review your work, beta reading for another author, keeping up with discussions in all the writer's groups, managing your author or fan page. All this takes WORK, and EFFORT.

Now it is about 10:00 am and I'm starting to fade a bit. So I take a nap (GASP! IN THE DAYTIME?) Yes...I take a nap. Remember now, I have only had two hours sleep so far so I try to get about 3 more hours before everyone comes home from work and school. Then it's time to make dinner, do more dishes, help with homework and whatever else I can get done.

I am not looking for sympathy, here. I choose this. I sacrifice so I can do this. This is my dream. Until these books start making some consistent money, I live without certain luxuries like: dinner out, movies, decent haircuts, new shoes, vacations, a car that was built in this know, all the fun stuff. I am not asking for sympathy, only that you think before you speak. Just because I work from home, doesn't mean I am sitting on my ass doing nothing.  Just because I don't punch a time-clock doesn't mean I didn't accomplish something today. Books aren't written in a day, and not everyone can do it. Everyone, whether they want to admit it or not, is looking for recognition,whether it be a raise, promotion, or a bonus. Writers are no different, we are striving to make a name for ourselves in the form of sales, reviews and fans.

So, if you have a writer in the family, don't be condescending. Don't call them "dreamers' like it's a bad thing, Don't make what you do at work everyday more important than what they do on a day-to-day basis. And for heaven's sake, don't come home from work and say "what did you do all day?" or you just might end up being the casualty in chapter 6. Woodchippers, axes, chainsaws... we dreamers have endless ways of getting even.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

I write what I write because:

This is The Snake Pit. My very first novella which I self-published in October of 2010. It is a short, but powerful story about a girl who is literally bullied to death in a public school, a subject I happen to know quite a bit about. People often ask me why I write what I write. Well, I can tell you, it's not for the money, that's for sure. I am going to show you why I write what I write. It is a little long, but bear with me, it's worth reading. (I know, I have read it a hundred least)

I received this in the mail just a few weeks ago:

Dear Ms. Donna L. Dillon
My name is __. I am a freshman at__ and I wanted to thank you for changing my life. I have read most of your books and been impacted in some way by all of them. My personal favorite is The Snake Pit. The book speaks to me. It made me realize that bullying is real. i am used to hearing no-bullying and zero-tolerance, but, The Snake Pit made me realize what is going on around me. After reading the Snake Pit, I realized that newspapers, magazines and TV shows are all full of bullying stories: Girl commits suicide. Boy shoots children and then himself in school. Bullies expelled. Victim of bullying tells his story; everywhere I looked someone was in danger and crying out for help. These are kids just like me who deserve a better life. Since I read your book I notice everything, the whispered words and the silent stares that hurt worse than a punch.

I have changed since reading The Snake Pit. I was not always willing to stand up and voice my opinion just to make things right. I didn't know how to sit down and help a stranger without saying a word. I didn't care about the bullying videos and posters shown at school. I couldn't even help my sister make friends. I was just like everyone else, and I was not proud of it. I was afraid. I was tired of pretending there was world pace and everyone was liked by everyone else. I couldn't ignore the pushes and shoves in the hallway; it was time to push back. I was not the person who I wanted to be, and it was up to me to change that.

Every word made me want to keep reading, even though I knew what lay ahead I had to find out. I want to thank you for influencing me through your book. It targets real life problems that apply to all ages. My sister deals with some bullying and so it's hard for me to watch her cry and stand alone. This book taught me that all she needs is a friend. It taught me to stand up and voice my thoughts I listen and I help her through the rough spots. I am there for her. I could read this book a hundred times and still cry because the pain and torture Cinda endures are almost like I am there enduring them alongside of her. Bullying is seen as a big issue and adults try as hard as they can to stop it but they are not there they don't see what happens when the teacher walks out or turns her back. They do not really dig down deep enough to uncover the secrets of their manipulative students. No one ever really knows until it is too late. This book teaches about life and what goes on underneath the glossy surface.

She stands alone and never speaks. I didn't know her name and I never made an effort to include her. She is smaller and doesn't act like the rest of the kids. She was basically ignored by everyone, seen but just not acknowledged. One day I decided to introduce myself, that was all it took. Now we are close friends, she talks and laughs with me, it's like we have been friends all along. I know I was influenced by The Snake Pit. I stopped judging people by their appearance. I learned that everyone matters and no one should be bullied. I reached out to those who needed help. I am not afraid to stand up to bullying, and am trying to change the world one step at a time.


Well, I won't use her name, but you can imagine what emotions I went through when I read this. And this, my dear children, is why I write what I do. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year, new goals, let's see if we can pull it together.

I will admit, I am a terrible blogger. I'm lazy. I let it go for months and months and try to forget about it. I don't market the way I should, I don't tweet every day like I should, and I wonder why my sales are less than stellar.

I don't know why I am not a good blogger. I have ideas, clear opinions on all kinds of interesting topics, and if we were sitting here face to face, I would talk your ear off. But, when it's just me this blank screen...not so much. I think most people experience the opposite: face to face they can't quite get their feelings out, but given a blog post and they all become Nicolas Sparks. I envy those people.

Well, this year I am leaving my comfort zone and I will blog, and tweet, and market. Anti-bullying is still my platform and so these two books will be my focus for 2014.

They say you should write what you know. Unfortunately, I know quite a bit about this subject. I was bullied mercilessly because of a birth defect. Basically, people didn't like my face. And what was I going to do about that? Nothing. There was nothing I could do, and they all knew it. I finally quit worrying about it and stuck with my true friends, they shielded me as best they could, and I managed to enjoy at least part of my school years. But, it hurt. I'm not going to lie about that. It got better, but now and then I still hear the voice of a particularly nasty bully in my head. In times of stress, or feelings of self-doubt, that cute little cheerleader's vicious little taunts echo in my head and will wake me from a sound sleep. All of the sudden, I am no longer a 46 year-old mother of four, published author of five books, one of which is an amazon best-seller. I am a fourteen year old ugly girl who hides in the bathroom at school because she is afraid of what the cheerleaders will say to her when she tries to walk past them in the hallway. 

The scars I carry on the outside, from all the surgery I endured growing up, are nothing compared to the emotional scars I retain at the hands of the pretty girls. We are all grown up now, me and my bully. We are both mothers, wives, professional women...but I haven't seen her in over 25 years and I doubt very much if I could be in the same room with her even today. Bullying hurts. Bullying scars. Bullying kills. And this is the message I want to hammer home in 2014. 

So, I will try my best to make these blogs at least interesting, if not amusing. This one wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be, but it's easy to write what you know. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Don't Tell Anyone...

Oh I am so excited!  I had the privilege of previewing this title while Laurie was still working on it and have been waiting anxiously for the paperback to come out. But first, I will give you the short version, so you know what I'm talking about.

Estelle Trager would rather die outright than suffer from the breast cancer that devastated her mother. So when her own tumors are revealed, she asks her daughter-in-law, Liza, to kill her. Horrified, Liza refuses, but keeps the secret, and other things, from her angry husband. Can she convince Estelle to consider other options before cancer, secrets, and Estelle’s suicidal intentions win out? 

Now I know a few of you would jump at the chance to kill your mothers-in-law. (Not me, I love my MIL.."Hi Linda, I love you, dearie.") But nobody would actually consider it...would you? Estelle, who watched her own mother suffer and die from cancer, and although she saw the signs of her own illness...she basically chose to ignore them.  By the time a diagnosis has been made, Estelle decides she wants to die on her own terms and enlists the help of her daughter-in-law Liza; the girl she once referred to as a "godless hippie."  Of course, Liza refuses to be part of such a plan, but agrees to keep the diagnoses a secret from Estelles son Adam, who is also her Type-A, anal-retentive, control freak husband who also has obvious sibling rivalry issues regarding his brother Charlie, whom Liza briefly dated before him. (Yes all this is happening, and yes, it all works.)

Well, anyway, you may think this is one of those sappy, "everyone pulls together in times of strife" lifetime movie type book, but, no.  Cancer doesn't work that way. Cancer is scary. People's feelings and wishes often get overlooked when others become hell bent on saving them. Nobody is on the same page here, just as it often is in times like this. Liza is a nutritionist and spends most of the time trying to shove wheat grass and herbal tea into Estelle, who doesn't want any part of it. Adam is hell bent on treatment no matter what, and Charlie just sits back and tries his best to put out whatever fires pop up.  Estelle just wants to live as she always has, eating what she wants, drinking what she wants, and taking care of herself. Nobody wants to listen to her and wind up treating her like a child which angers this fiesty old bird to no end. 

I got to read this wonderful novel at a time when all these things were actually happening to me. My dear Aunt Judi was diagnosed with cancer and kept it a secret from us until she had two months left. The family lost their minds. Some wanted treatment, some wanted to let her live out her life in peace, and Aunt Judi was Aunt Judi to the very end. Organized and efficient, she made sure we all got what she wanted us to have. She let us help her when she needed it, and shooed us away when she didn't. We all got to be with her when this wonderful woman left this earth and it was the most precious moment in my life, so this novel hit me extremely hard. I identified with some characters, was angry at others, developed a little crush on Charlie and loved them all, especially Estelle. The whole story is brilliantly written and woven together so well you feel like you are reading about your own family.

Don't Tell Anyone is available now on Smashwords, and will be available soon for kindle and paperback on For less than the price of a latte, you can experience a story you will never forget.