Let’s Talk About Suicide

Community Gardening


One of my roles is work in suicide prevention. In the last two years, I’ve learned there are few families in America who haven’t been touched by suicide — and this is especially true if you live west of the Mississippi. There is a western wave of violence theory; in a nutshell: there are a lot of guns west of the Mississippi.

I’m not getting into a gun debate here. I am going to share a few insights that I hope may help one of you reading.

  1. You’re not alone. Lots and lots of people (most Americans, actually) will experience depression at some point. Some 80% of suicides are related to depression. You may have visited that dark place where ending your life seems more reasonable than sorting out the problems at hand. The good news in all of this is there are lots of resources, and you can remain anonymous if you want too.
  2. People who attempt suicide and survive are not doing so “for attention.” They are hurting, and they need help. Judgments of their behavior do not help. Let’s be thankful they’ve survived.
  3. Talk therapy is gold for suicidal individuals. Sometimes, a person may also need medications to help right the chemicals in their brain. Similarly, sometimes diabetics need insulin. There should be no societal difference in how we decipher the pharmaceutical needs of our physical and behavioral needs.
  4. Community is critical. The most successful suicide prevention program in Arizona pairs senior volunteers with home-bound seniors. These pairs become friends. Now, a person who wasn’t able to leave their home has a friend coming over at least once a week to check in. Just that has been enough. The program hasn’t had a suicide yet.
  5. Suicide, regardless of age, race or sexual preference, etc., happens because of isolation. A person may feel alone in a rural community, or in a bustling high school. Loneliness is public enemy number one in suicide prevention. We are creatures who need friendship.
  6. The largest group of individuals dying by suicide in America are white men age 65 and older by gun. If you have a man who meets these criteria in your life and you are at all concerned, please remove any guns or prescription drugs from the home until you can find him help.

Some great resources:

  • Teen Lifeline pairs kids with kids to talk about tough things, including suicide.
  • Your state behavioral health system. It may not be perfect, but they should have resources available for both substance abuse and suicide prevention. These often go hand in hand.
  • Safe Talk. This is a two day class that trains anyone age 18 and older how to recognize concerning behaviors and make a safe plan. Your municipality should be offering this course.
  • The Area Agency on Aging. The AAA will have community resources regarding suicide as well.

If someone in your life is hurting and considering suicide, please speak up.



Bye bye, Garden

Garden to Table

This has been a very frustrating year in the gardening department. *We spent several hundred dollars (and several weekends) getting the irrigation set to the garden beds. And several hundred dollars on great earth and heirloom seeds and plants. And then, several hundred dollars on water.

This year, we’ve produced two squash, a couple dozen tomatoes and a dozen peppers. Total. The birds have eaten another two dozen tomatoes. And we’ve lost some of everything to the sun.

We are currently in the middle of a crazy heatwave, even for Arizona. It has been 115+ for the last few days. My green, leafy garden looks like someone took a blow torch to it. The leaves are singed along the edges, if not entirely dead. We do have gourds going nuts, vining all over the yard. And the herbs, happily potted in the shade, are also doing well in the heat as of today.

But man, the first year of a new garden is rough. It is a lot of work for future bounty. I need a good attitude to keep everyone else in the house who is waiting on the bounty interested, instead of wondering where all of our time and money went.

Our fall garden? It will be great. We’ll pull everything out in late-August, mix in new soil amendments and start over. I’m half-tempted to pull the remaining tomatoes now and plant pumpkin seeds for autumn. We are trying something new: starting tomato starts from cuttings. I’m going to do the same with both types of basil we are growing as well. There is a chance we’ll be able to keep our favorite tomato plants from this year alive indoors until mid-October and then transplant. Because if it is 118 in June, it better not freeze come January. That’s the deal I’m making with Mama Nature.

Gardening is a long-term hobby. Some years you fall flat. Or burnt.


*and by “We” I firmly mean “Jason.”

Finding Your Muse


I working on novel 3: “Counting Coup.” It is in the bare bones beginning stages, where I am throwing a bunch of ideas and characters down on the page and seeing what works. I’m about 15,000 words into this story — part of which is set on a farm in Nebraska in the 1950s and the other side, set in modern day Phoenix.

One of the characters has dementia. I’ve been struggling with how to get the details right about her care and her symptoms without barraging the reader with information that reads like a medical journal entry. Books that accidentally teach me something are my favorite. (A recent example is “All the Light We Cannot See,” and the creation and engineering of radios.)

Writing about dementia that lets the reader experience it emotionally, but doesn’t hit them over the head with sentimentality, is tricky.

This week my boss asked me to attend a health care conference in town. She was presenting and wasn’t able to attend several sessions of interest herself. Imagine my delight when I got the course material and realized one of those sessions was with an expert in dementia behaviors and treatment. Seriously. I took five handwritten pages of notes, was able to ask questions and got the details and nuance I needed to better develop this character.

When the universe aligns in this way, I feel like my friends Creativity and Inspiration are sitting on either side of me, paving the path to something great. I skipped out of there with new motivation to get back to writing and feeling very lucky. Speaking of — time to get back to it.



On Publishing

Female Shepherd

More than a year ago, I sent my second novel, “Basket Baby” off to a small publishing house in Montana. A friend of mine had success in publishing with them, and spoke highly of their work. She said she’d put in a good word.

They read the first few chapters, requested the rest of the novel, and returned it with detailed editing and a note that said, “This may or may not be for us. There are a lot of cliches.” (I’m paraphrasing, but the word cliche was definitely used.)

I made their changes, page by page. And I workshopped the novel with a group of people I trust. I watched common errors fall away — word echos that are hard to catch in your own work, for example. I noticed that my dialog skills were strengthened by reminding the reader who is speaking, even if it is just two people and it is wildly clear to you, the writer. My character descriptions became more consistent and true.

These are a few of many areas I worked through before sending “Basket Baby” back to the original publisher. A month later, I got the news: they had decided to publish the book. The edits were good, and I’ve been assigned another editor to work with during the next 60 days to make the story ready for print. I’m working with another staff member on designing a book cover. “Basket Baby” will be on store shelves December 6, 2016.


I mean… I’ve been talking about this day for decades. This novel, like the first, took years to see the light of day. And then took increasingly thick skin to make something worth sharing publicly. I’ve called myself a novelist since I self-published “Under the Same Moon” in 2010. Today, it feels real. And, it feels absolutely marvelous!

Thank you for hanging around here all these years to see this dream to fruition. I’ll be sharing book signing dates as they are scheduled and hope to see as many of you as possible.


(the novelist)

A Pillow for the Cuban Room

My friend Lisa once hosted me at her home in Indianapolis. She and her partner Dan are two of the most gracious people I know. Also, Lisa happens to be a total fitness nut and hilarious. I love the bits of time I get to spend with her when she’s in Arizona, and hope to travel to Indiana again to see them.

Her 50th birthday was a few months ago and of course I didn’t get anything in the mail to her her in time. So, I asked her if I could make a log cabin pillow to match one of the colorful rooms in their home. She sent me photos of the Cuba room, and this is what eventually arrived as a belated gift:

Cuba room pillow for Lisa. Www.africankelli.com

Cuba room pillow for Lisa. Www.africankelli.com

Cuba room pillow for Lisa. Www.africankelli.com

Have I mentioned lately how much I love Indiana?