The Doctor is IN

Keen Observations on Life … Whether You Need Them or Not

The Business of Writing Romance – new this spring at CCCC!

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I was a military brat until elementary school, when my parents divorced, and my mom and I put down roots. After college, and marriage and having our son, we moved into a small town in North Carolina where we put down more roots. We lived there for 19 years–the longest I’ve lived in one place. When we moved to our new house out in the meadow last summer, I did not enjoy the moving process. Selling and building a house: yes. Packing up our shit and then unpacking it: no.

One highlight was the bookshelves. I got in the habit of tucking important things in between books at random. Handwritten notes, letters to Santa, cards, photographs, playbills, admission tickets to the ballet I wrote … things like that. I also maintain a notebook for everything. I got in the habit of that years ago. I like a basic Mead 3-ring binder; nothing fancy or leather. To my delight, I discovered our son is a doodler, like me. I was getting my notebook cleaned organized so I can keep track of my WIPs, and ran across this doodle–one of my favorites. Think I’ll shake out the shelves, so to speak, to see what fun stuff I can find. Stay tuned!

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New Year, New Opportunity!

It’s exciting to have made another lap around the sun. The new year, for me, is lining up to be pretty exciting. Beginning today, I’ll be blogging with USA Today’s Happy Ever After community, making recommendations for my favorite romantic suspense books!

Check it out when you get a chance … I’ll be posting on Thursdays.

Happy New Year, y’all!

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Putting it all together

The continuing education creative writing adjunct instructors at Central Carolina Community College were asked to provide bios and headshots, and images of their book covers for the upcoming Carolina Women’s Show. My mom loves stuff like this, so we’ll most likely swing through. It’s kind of cool to see all of seven of my book covers put together. It reminds me that my TBI is nothing but a blip in my career, a five-year hiatus seasoning my imagination so my forthcoming books will be even more exciting. Onward and upward!

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New Semester, New Writing Courses!

I can honestly say that I’m never bored. But 2016 will go down in history as one crazy, busy year. We traveled to Barbados; sold our house of 19 years; we built a new house; our son graduated from high school; we traveled to San Diego, CA; we traveled to NYC; our son started college; my mother sold her house in a day; and we moved my mother in with us while her house is being built (expected completion: June 2017). WHEW.

It’s a good thing I like to be busy. One of the upsides of moving to a new county and a new community is finding fun new things. Like Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro. I’ll be starting this spring as an adjunct instructor in their Creative Writing Program. AND I’ll also be continuing to work as an adjunct instructor in Wake Technical Community College’s writing program. 🙂 Check it out:

Introduction to Grantwriting
Wake Technical Community College
Tuesdays : March 21 – May 2, 2017

The Business of Writing Romance
Central Carolina Community College
Thursdays : March 23 – May 4, 2017

Sign up today!


Great advice from the keynote

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-12-12-19-pmThis morning I had the pleasure of going to the Durham Technical Community College 2016 Scholarship Breakfast. Sometimes it’s nice to be the only Sickles in town … I had a lovely breakfast, and got to sit with this year’s scholarship recipient and her mom.

All of the speakers were interesting, but Vinnay Khanna, the keynote speaker, was particularly extraordinary. He spoke of meeting the Dalai Lama as a child, and kicked off his conversation with thoughts on not letting others dissuade you from setting (or pursuing) lofty goals. He shared three substantive pieces of advice, and I want to pass them on. These work for short- and long-term goals.

  1. Have lofty goals.
  2. Work hard. Even if you’re the most gifted person in the world, why would you not work hard? “Set your goals so high that you have to fail. Don’t set them so low that you succeed.”
  3. Don’t worry about others. Don’t let other people discourage you from aiming high. Where you have been is not as important as where you are heading now.

So … what lofty goals do YOU have planned for today?

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Sometimes, growing up sucks

The best thing about having kids while you’re young is that you get to grow up with them. Our son was born two weeks after I turned 25 and ever since, we’ve referred to ourselves as ‘the Sickles Three.’ We’re family, but more importantly we’re friends. A unit. And while we’ve been working toward preparing our son for college and adulthood and life, now that we’re there, it sure is difficult to bear.

Progress is important. Change is inevitable. And sometimes growing up sucks.

I’ve been struggling this week with Peyton heading to college. He is exactly where he is supposed to be, doing exactly what he is supposed to be doing, and I am thankful and elated and supportive … but I am so sad. While his college is only an hour away, and I know he’ll be back, dropping him off at college this morning signals a huge shift in life. Things will never be the same again, and the future is unknown … and sort of scary. There’s childhood. Then marriage. Then kids. Now … something else new.

For the past 18 years, we’ve had our little peanut at arm’s length, there to hug and talk to and just look at, anytime we wanted. So much has changed for us this summer. We lived in our house in Apex for 19 years — my Sweet Pea came home to that house — but we moved on June 1 to a beautiful house on two acres half an hour away. We’ve got a grown up house now. And we’ve got a grown up son who isn’t in grade school anymore. And by default that means that I, too, am a grown up.

And that kind of sucks. So while I usher in a thrilling new chapter in our son’s life, I must also turn the page and begin a new one. I think I’ve been so focused on mentally and emotionally preparing myself for Peyton’s college departure that I forgot it what day-to-day changes it will bring: I’ll wake up on Monday morning at a reasonable hour — not the 5:45 am I’ve done for the past six years. I’ll fix breakfast and lunch for myself. I’ll miss cross-country meets in the fall, and track season in the spring. I’ll miss harassing the shit out of him to finish his homework before midnight. I’ll miss watching his dog trot up the stairs after him for bed.

Sigh …

So here’s to all the college-bound kids and their exciting new adventures … and here’s to all the parents establishing a new normal. And here’s to growing up. May you face it with a smile on your face, your loved ones close to your heart, and adventure in your spirit.

With me in San Diego, 2016; at the beach, flying with dad in 1999; running in the NYC Summer Streets long run in 2016.

With me in San Diego, 2016; at the beach, flying with dad in 1999; running in the NYC Summer Streets long run in 2016.


A serious note to my (and all) college-bound freshman

Hooray! You did it … you graduated from high school! After a dozen long, studious years you’re in for the next phase of life, where you’ll be living away from home, setting your own hours and fighting your own battles. Don’t get me wrong, you’re not living in a remote silo, but for the most part your decisions (and their consequences) are your own for the first time. Dad and I are so proud of you.

We’ve always been open about, well … everything. You’ve grown up in an activist, non-profit household where you volunteered for Drag Bingo, built homes, stuffed envelopes for annual fund drives for HIV funding. You’ve listened when I took every opportunity to work in discussions on safe and responsible sex, alcohol and drugs. You’ve actively participated in conversations about responsibility, accountability and self-esteem. But it’s been easy because you’ve been here with us, and have to come home to face us at night after dates with your girlfriend and adventuring with your friends. At college, you report to no one but yourself. You are a legal adult now, so any trouble you might get into counts differently. You can go to jail. You can get kicked out of college. You can damage your permanent chance of future employment. You can change the trajectory of all future relationships. Fortunately, you know I’m not all gloom and doom … and that I’m going to use any opportunity I can find to create a teachable moment. Well, here it is.

Just_Wear_ItTake sex seriously. Remember what Gran always told me about kissing: you’re kissing the person before them, and the person before them. Sex is the same way … you’re coming into contact with the person before, and the person before, and the person before … Imagine how embarrassing it’ll be to tell your wife or your partner you had gonorrhea or chlamydia or genital warts. How about HIV disease, Hepatitis C or herpes – those never go away. Sex is not dirty or scary or bad. It is a crucial, really fun and healthy element in adult relationships. Just be smart, be safe. And ALWAYS USE A CONDOM. Guys — you aren’t the only ones responsible for supplying condoms; girls — make sure you have them available, too. Do not trust a partner to tell you they’re clean, or taking birth control pills. Use a condom and keep YOUR body safe, which in turn will keep your partner’s body safe. Have respect for yourself and your partner. And for crying out loud, do not brag about intimacy. Have dignity. Oh — one last thing: just because you have gonads instead of ovaries does not mean you have to take abuse from mean girls. You have feelings, too.

When you go to parties:

  • drink water or a soft drink out of one of the red cups – you’ll look like everybody else (and your hands will have something to do) but still be in control;
  • do not accept drinks from strangers – bad, violent and violating things happen to guys, too;
  • do NOT ever get in the car with someone who has had anything (much less a lot) to drink – call a cab, call Uber, call me, or drive their car (as long as you have had zero to drink);
  • do NOT invite strangers up to your room – don’t put yourself in the position of having to confirm consent or risk your own safety or health. It’s easy to confuse friendly gestures for romantic ones – you’re cute and gallant and like catnip, and often ignore how girls react to you. Draw a substantial, obvious line; make it clear you’re strictly friendly classmates. A one-night stand is not worth it. No means no. Drunk NEVER means yes.
  • do know what kind of safety information girls are Googling — they just want to be safe, too (PS. you have strong protective urges, but it does not mean you are the only guy who can swoop in and save the day … walk away from physical altercations and call 911)
  • do NOT stick around if drugs come into play. Just leave.
  • do NOT fight the police if they show up. There are always attorneys and advocates. Go peacefully. Lie on the ground if they tell you to. Keep your hands visible. Follow directions. Most importantly: LIVE.

If you are going to try drugs:

Stay healthy and keep on running:

Develop a successful routine:

If something happens, find an adult. Call the police. Call us — it is NEVER too late to ring me up. Do not let your university silence you. We have insurance. We will forgive you. Just live to see another day.

And PS, we’re not paying for a fraternity.