Books, Wine, and Dogs

In February, I had my first book signing at Books, Wine, and Dogs in Downtown Warsaw. It went well, from my perspective: enough people showed up that I didn't feel like a loser, but not so many that I felt overwhelmed. Michelle Stavrou, the owner of the shop, was a gracious and effusive host. She took the picture of me above—the only one from the event, because sometimes I forget that I should take pictures of things.

Next month, on April 11 from 7:00-8:30pm, Michelle is opening up the shop again to host a Book Club for Beneath the Trees! (Did I tell you she was great?) If you've read the book and want to come out and discuss it (and also enjoy some great wine), we'd love to see you there. If you haven't read it, well... it's short! You could probably read it by then. And if you don't have your copy yet, the store is open.

Soon I'll start more of a for-real marketing push for Beneath the Trees, but for now, I'd be eternally grateful to anyone who feels like they can recommend it to their friends. Word-of-mouth helps authors more than any marketing tactic ever can.

I'll have more updates about my work soon. In the mean time, feel free to jet on over to Facebook if you want to RSVP to the Book Club event. Happy Spring!

Announcing "Beneath the Trees"

Hot on the heels of the Her True Name collection, I'm excited to announce the publication of my first novel, Beneath the Trees.

I finished the stories in Her True Name over a year ago, and while they were coming out in serial form on my website, I started working on Beneath the Trees. It's about an indie musician whose wife is dying, and who one day after a bad thunderstorm finds a wood nymph sheltering in the wreckage of an old barn.

Beneath the Trees deals with death, self-sacrifice, and the fear of loss, but it's not as dark a story as that description makes it sound. In fact, it's hopeful—and deeply personal to me. You can find it for sale in the bookstore.


Book Signing

Accompanying the release of Beneath the Trees, I've been invited to do a book signing at Books, Wine and Dogs in Downtown Warsaw. This is my first book signing ever! I'm excited, and a little nervous. If you're free and in the area on February 18 from 11:00am to 1:00pm, come out and get a copy of the book, or just enjoy some wine and play with dogs!

Books, Wine and Dogs is located at:

101 E. Center Street
Warsaw, IN 46580

See you there!

Her True Name - the Collection
HerTrueName3Final-FJM_Mid_Res_1000x1500.jpg

Her True Name is a book!

If you've followed along with the Her True Name series of stories that I published throughout 2016, I'm thrilled to announce that you can now get the complete text of all seven stories in one volume—together with an eighth story that I never published on the blog.

If you haven't been following along—well, I'm still thrilled to announce it!

I started writing the adventures of the Unnamed Heroine way back in 2013, but I had been thinking about the character for several years before that. I've been living with her in my head, one way or another, for about a decade now. I haven't nearly finished telling her stories, but I'm so glad I can finally share this first collection of her adventures with everyone. I hope you'll enjoy them.

Get your digital copy of Her True Name at ryanelainska.com/bookzero, and let me know what you think!

I’m Doing This Backwards

I’ve been working for several weeks on an idea for a novella. It started with an idea that wasn’t very “high-concept”, which I usually try to avoid. Before long I realized that all my favorite parts of the idea were the character bits—the parts that got me choked up just thinking about them.

This is not how I operate. I do hook first—always the hook first, so I know why anyone would even think about reading the story. I do not do character bits first.

Now I’m trying to retrofit this character arc onto an actual concept that can hold together a fantasy storyline people actually want to read. It’s brutal. I keep sitting down with my spiral and my 3x5s and cranking on mind maps and outlines every weekend until I think, “Yeah, that’s it, right?” But some tiny part of my brain always knows that’s not it. So I spend the work week mulling over the story, then sit down on Saturday determined to nail the outline for good this time.

And by the end of the weekend I think, “Yeah, that’s it, right?”

Nope.

Building a plot around character beats. Not the way I do things.

Who We Are

Before you read the rest of this post, watch the video linked below. It’ll take you almost exactly one minute:

Valentine’s Day Announcement

Are you done? Good. I hope you enjoyed it. We definitely enjoyed making it and showing it to you. Now, on to why I’m writing.

One of the things I know lots of people will ask us is: “Why are you doing this?”

Because we’re a new family—that’s why. At eight-plus years of marriage, we may not seem that new, but we know our family history on both sides, and… we’re pretty new. Rather than choosing one or the other of our existing family lines to identity with forever, we’ve decided to choose a new identity all our own.

We aren’t doing this to make anyone sad, or to symbolize any kind of rejection of our families or our families’ values. We’re embracing a new identity, not abandoning our existing ones. Some people probably will feel sad or hurt, and that makes us feel sad as well. But I will always be a proud member of the Stauffer family, just as Sally will always be a proud member of the Wallin family. We have a new name now, and we as one have a new identity, but each of us is the same person we were before.

I’m sure many people will also want to know what our new name means, or why we chose it.

I’ve always identified very strongly with the Scottish part of my heritage. My mother actually gave me a new Scottish name when I turned eighteen, and I got married to Sally wearing a kilt of our actual clan’s actual tartan.

Sally, for her part, has always thought of herself as primarily Polish. Her mother and all her mother’s family are Polish—second-generation immigrants who escaped from the Nazi regime.

Both of us together have also come to strongly identify with being artists and people of craft. So, after a lot of research and deliberation, we decided on combining the following elements:

Ealain”, a Scottish Gaelic word meaning “art, learning/profession, poetry”.

-ska”, a common Polish suffix meaning “of the….”

We decided to drop the first a to make the English phonetical spelling match the actual Gaelic pronunciation of the word. That gives us “Elainska” (pronounced “eh-LINE-skuh”).

As in, “Sally & Ryan Elainska”.

Sally and Ryan sitting in a window seat looking out across Lake Superior
John Siracusa’s Inner Troubled Teen

I used to work in a group home for troubled boys, many of whom were survivors of unhealthy families or environments, or sometimes of the corrections system. As part of my initial training, I learned a set of concepts and techniques developed at Cornell University and collectively known as Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI). TCI training emphasized the importance of understanding the “Conflict Cycle”, which goes like this:

A Stressful Incident -> The Young Person’s Feelings -> The Young Person’s Actions -> An Adult’s Response

In plainer terms, a young person in crisis (and all residents of a group home can broadly be understood to be in crisis at nearly all times) will experience a stressful incident or situation. If they cannot successfully manage their feelings in response to that trigger, they will act out in unacceptable ways. The adult(s) responsible for the young person will then respond to the unacceptable behavior.

If the Adult Response is successful, the unacceptable behavior will end, and the young person will learn better skills for coping with stress or painful feelings. If the Adult Response is not successful (that is, not therapeutic), it will constitute a new Stressful Incident that will retrigger painful or unmanageable feelings in the young person, beginning the cycle anew.

I thought about the Conflict Cycle as I listened to the most recent episode of Reconcilable Differences, a podcast by John Siracusa and Merlin Mann in which they discuss the development and expression of their two disparate personalities. I highly recommend it, and if you want to skip straight to the content I discuss, the 1:06:25 marker is a good place to start.

As the main topic of the episode, Merlin interrogates John about the processes by which he maintains the primacy of his critical faculty, for which he is renowned. In a particular corner of the nerdosphere, invoking John Siracusa is a well-recognized shorthand for the ability to identify and analyze a shortcoming or flaw in reasoning or execution. Merlin references this reputation in asking how John developed the skill of detaching his own ego and personal feelings from his analysis of even highly-charged issues. In response, John detours into discussing what he refers to as his “Mental Model”.

My brain has two parts. It has the rational part, and it has the other part. And the rational part of the brain—everyone can relate to this, I think—something happens that is significant, or upsetting, or traumatic, or exciting, or whatever it is: a significant event. 25 years pass, and you look back on that event; you have a better perspective on it, because so much time has passed that, hopefully, a lot of the trauma or the excitement or whatever has drained out of it, and you can look back on it, and you can engage with that event in a way that you could not when you were sort of in the heat of the moment, right? That is my attempt to explain what the rational part of the brain is… So that’s one part of the brain is the rational part, and the other part is all the parts with the feelings and the reactions and so on and so forth. And I use this mental model because I’ve always felt that the rational part of my brain—probably since mid-to-late adulthood—massively dominates the other part of the brain. That I’m able to engage it very close to the heat of the moment, like within hours or days, or sometimes immediately, and sometimes pre-emptively: engage the rational part of my brain to win over the other part… This is the tool I use to manage myself. Something is super-upsetting, or whatever; I engage the rational part of my brain to try to bring myself down, to try to say, “Look, I know you’re upset, or whatever, but let’s try to think about this, and not do something stupid.” Or, “Think about what we did: what really happened there? I know you’re angry at this person, but were you actually the one who was at fault there?” It is super-important to me that the rational part of my brain is the part of my brain that has control.

Note: my transcription is edited for brevity and clarity, but I feel I’ve represented John’s thoughts accurately.

In his description of his Mental Model, John almost perfectly adapts the Conflict Cycle, except that instead of an Adult and a Young Person, he substitutes what I’ll call “Rational John” and “Everything Else John”:

A Stressful Incident -> Everything Else John’s Feelings -> Everything Else John’s Actions -> Rational John’s Response

Rational John’s response sometimes results in a de-escalation of Everything Else John and an opportunity for Everything Else John to learn better coping skills. Or, more frequently—as John clarifies later in the podcast—Rational John fails to successfully de-escalate Everything Else John, who proceeds to wreak some harm upon a relationship that Rational John values

To aid group home workers in responding therapeutically, TCI instructs them to ask themselves Four Questions when confronting a young person in crisis:

  1. What am I feeling now?
  2. What does the young person feel, need, or want?
  3. How is the environment affecting the situation?
  4. How do I best respond?

Based on John’s description of himself, Rational John seems to have about the same success rate I had when I worked with troubled teens. I never performed particularly well at responding to young people in crisis, because I could get through Questions 1-3 fairly well but would usually fall apart at Question 4 and end up responding only neutrally, not therapeutically, to the client. Often I completely forgot to stop and ask myself the Four Questions before responding, and this usually accounts for my frequent failure to successfully respond to my own non-rational self as well. Much like Rational John, Rational Ryan often doesn’t even get a word in until Everything Else Ryan has already steamrolled forward into relational disaster. In that case, Rational Ryan just comes in to do the “mop-up”, as John refers to what I would call a “post-crisis interview” with Everything Else Ryan.

In the remaining hour of the podcast, John and Merlin discuss how this Mental Model can apply not only to preventing or mitigating harmful personal behavior but also to the pursuit of greater clarity of thought and belief. Merlin briefly refers to another set of techniques I practiced with similarly mediocre success in the group home: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. John—consciously or unconsciously—adapts those concepts to his own goal of constantly self-correcting his own erroneous beliefs to achieve a better grasp on reality. It’s a jam-packed hour of wrestling with the flawed mental processes that guide our ideas and relationships, and well worth your time and consideration.