A diagnosis and a choice

It’s been a little while since I posted, and usually that means a couple of things. One- I’m drowning in grading papers, or two- I’m not feeling so great.

Since it’s summer, my paper grading has subsided, although I’ve been teaching a summer class for the last few weeks.

I have been feeling okay, but this time of year is always a little hard for me. It’s hot, which is pretty much my kryptonite. I have a really hard time doing anything because my body just stops wanting to move.

This is also my 13th anniversary of being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

Most people who have followed me, know of my diagnosis. It’s not a secret, but by looking at me, one would never know anything was wrong.

This past November, I gave a TED talk at my school to all of the juniors and seniors. We were having a week full of assemblies which talked about all of the ways that everyone matters. Everyone goes through things in life and we can all learn from each other.

The administration approached me about speaking and I had to decide if I wanted to open the door to something I held pretty close to the vest. I mean, these are teenagers and I’m the teacher. I didn’t want to change how anyone looked at me. I was terrified that I would become ‘the sick teacher’ and I never, ever wanted that.

I was also told to be very careful about who knows about my illness. People can use things against you.

But, I decided that I wanted to share. After all, other teachers were also doing talks and I figured this might help someone.

So I agreed.

I am including the text of my speech here so you can learn a little more about me. I’m changing a few parts that work better when spoken, but this is what I had to say. After, I’ll tell you how things have changed since.

*******

Life is a funny thing. Just when you think you have everything figured out, it reminds you just how little control you have.

I learned that lesson twice in my life.

It’s not that I was a really arrogant person, or that I thought I was better than anyone, but I was pretty sure about a few things.

I was sure I was a relatively happy and healthy person, and I was sure my family would always be there for me.

Before I go into details about the lessons I learned, let me go back a few years. I grew up in a very nice little town. I never moved and my life was stable. I was anything but. I was the kid who struggled through school and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life after I graduated.

Everyone had a plan.

I didn’t.

I was scared. I was scared of not being someone important. I was scared of messing up and I was scared of failure.

But I think I was most scared of the unknown.

Everything had always been very clear to me. I had a routine and I liked that. I don’t do well with the unexpected, an issue that was about to become a real problem.

I worked hard through college and after a long period of time working full time and going to school full time, I finally got my teaching degree. I interviewed many places and found myself here, at the very high school I left all those years before.

The usual thoughts went through my mind. What would it be like to teach next to the same teachers I had as a student? What would I feel like being on the other side of the desk?

Would all of my high school anxieties come back? Was this the worst decision ever?

I started teaching and it was incredible. It was challenging and fun and scary and intense and I began to forget the fear and anxiety and I started to uncover a passion I never knew I had.

I could inspire students. I could become the person I always wanted to be. I could do it all and I found the perfect opportunity to grow as an individual and as a teacher.

My first few years teaching were a blur. So much happened and so many things were thrown my way, that it was hard to take a breath. I learned that I can juggle many things at once and I don’t really have to eat or use the bathroom at all during the day.

I found a groove.  I had directed 3 school plays, taught over 10 different classes, advised the yearbook and the school paper and I was set.

I had a plan

I was on fire.

And then life said…nope.

While teaching in February of 2004, I began to notice something was wrong with my vision. I felt like I had a spot on my glasses that I couldn’t rub off. The problem was, when I took my glasses off, the spot was still there.

I didn’t think much of it. I made an appointment to get my eyes checked and went on with my day.

The doctor visit came and went and my eyes tested perfectly. Nothing wrong. No problem.

Okay, I figured they knew more than I did, and maybe I just needed to learn to live with whatever this spot was.

Then the fireworks started.

I literally saw fireworks out of the corner of my eyes. I would walk down the hall past the cafeteria and when the light hit my eyes, there were little bursts of light dancing to my right and left.

Now the thought that maybe I was having some sort of break from reality crossed my mind, but my sister is a psychologist and she assured me I was not losing my mind.

But something was wrong.

More eye doctors, more tests, more normal results.

I was frustrated.

My parents were frustrated.

My sister was frustrated.

I knew something was wrong, but everyone told me it was in my head.

Turns out they were right.

The last doctor I went to told me the only other option was to have an MRI done of my brain. They could get clear images of my brain and check for any abnormalities. It wasn’t a necessity, but if I wanted to cover all my bases, than I should do that.

So I went to the hospital, was strapped into this tight area and lay there for 45 minutes while what sounded like a jack hammer went over my head.

I went home and went on with my day.

The next day at school, I was having lunch with a few teachers when I received a message on the phone in my classroom.

It was from the eye doctor.

It said. It’s not your eyes, but your brain. You need to see a neurologist right away.

Okay, so this was a tad alarming. A million thoughts ran through my mind. What did they find? Was it a tumor? Could I finish working the day or did I need to go home? What kind of a message was that to leave someone? I didn’t have a neurologist. I didn’t even know how to find one.

I called my parents and told them what happened and they were furious. How could someone leave such a message? We called the doctor back and waited for word.

In the meantime, I decided to be proactive. I took myself back to the hospital and requested a copy of the MRI report.

Now, in hindsight, this was not smart. I was in no way prepared for the information on the sheet and to say life slapped me in the face would be an understatement.

Life drop kicked me.

The report was full of medical jargon that didn’t make sense to me. There was a lot about the size and shape of my brain which seemed normal from what I could see. But then there were a bunch of abnormalities. The report said that multiple lesions or spots were found on my brain. At least 15 to 20.

I scanned the report and they listed a bunch of possible diagnosis.

Many of them were easily ruled out. I didn’t have rabies or Lyme disease. I hadn’t travelled out of the country or been bitten by anything.

The bottom of the sheet said it all.

I felt like I went to the doctor for a cold and left hearing my leg had to be amputated.

I was stunned and scared and I didn’t know how to process any of this. I didn’t tell anyone I was going to pick up the report. I never expected it to say anything serious.

It was just a precautionary test. It wasn’t supposed to say anything.

The next few weeks were filled with questions. I just turned 30. I had my dream job. I moved out on my own.

What did this mean?

I did my research. People with MS are in a wheelchair. They can’t work. They can’t function.

Was that going to be me? When? How long did I have?

I went in for more tests to confirm the diagnosis. I had to have a brain test where they hooked up electrodes to my head and I had to watch a screen. It wasn’t so bad, just annoying.

I had to have a lumbar puncture, or a spinal tap, where they insert a needle into your lower back to collect spinal fluid.

That wasn’t the best day, but I did it.

I found out many people wait years for a diagnosis.

 

Mine took three days.

I had Multiple Sclerosis.

MS

I had MS.

Now what?

Everything felt different.

I didn’t know what my life looked like anymore. I didn’t know if I would be able to work. I didn’t know what was going to happen.

For someone who doesn’t like change, this was paralyzing.

I found a neurologist and my mom and I went to the first appointment.

I sat there, my stomach in knots, sweating and anxious for what he would say.

I had questions and I was hopeful there would be some clarity.

He would help me.

I remember sitting there and my mom was doing her best to keep me calm when he came in. I think we played our 3000th game of ‘I Spy’ something we did in doctor’s office since I was a baby.

He sat down and told me I had to make some decisions. MS had no cure and would get progressively worse. My only shot at stopping the progression was to begin a medication. It wasn’t a cure, but a chance to slow down whatever was happening.

The medications were all injections.

Now I’ve never really had any issues with shots, but I was not excited about the prospect of having to give myself injections.

For the rest of my life.

He began to list off the side effects of the medications, which were pretty bad. I remember thinking that I might not have any issues with the MS itself, but the side effects of these meds were terrible.

I was shell shocked and I know my mom could tell.

The doctor had no clue.

My mom smiled and told the doctor I had some questions.

I nodded and looked at him.

I just turned 30. Will I be able to have a life? Can I have children? Can I keep my job?

I waited and he looked at the chart, never making eye contact.

Right now, all you need to do is pick a medication.

That’s when my mom stood up.

“Actually, all we need to do is find a better doctor.”

She took my hand and we left.

I have never forgotten that doctor’s face. I have never forgotten how scared I was and I have never forgotten how he didn’t see me.

He saw my disease.

That’s all I was to him.

So that’s all I became.

Looking back on that time, I realize just how much that appointment affected me. I lost my identity. I lost my sense of humor and I lost my ability to trust myself.

I became depressed.

I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything. I cried. I mourned the person I was and I wanted to go back.

I also didn’t tell anyone.

I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. I was quiet and withdrawn and I hid from my life.

Then my dad stepped in.

My dad had a friend who I had known much of my life. He was in a wheelchair now because he had MS.

I knew that, and it terrified me. I didn’t want to talk to him.

But my dad knew better.

He had his friend call me and talk to me. Not about the MS, but about my concerns. He also gave me the greatest gift.

He got me in to see his doctor.

That first appointment, I was just as anxious and scared. I was resigned to the fact that my life was going to be completely different and there was nothing I could do about it. I had researched the medications and I was reconciled to the side effects.

I was defeated.

When he walked into the room, I was stunned.

He was the parent of one of my former students.

Great.

But something pretty amazing happened.

He asked me how I was feeling.

I asked if he read the test results.

He smiled and sat down, never taking his eyes off of me.

How are you feeling?

Um, okay I guess?

That’s good. Do you have any questions for me?

Wait, what?

My mom had tears in her eyes and it wasn’t because she was worried. She saw someone look at me as a person, and not a disease. She also saw me smile for the first time in what seemed like forever.

We talked and laughed and he explained everything he could for me.

The biggest issue was that with MS, nobody knows the course it will take. Some people have 1 lesion on their spine and they can’t walk. Some have a lesion on a part of their brain that controls movement and they have trouble with holding things or picking things up.

I joked that I felt okay and I had so many lesions. Maybe I didn’t really use any of my brain.

Before we left, I had decided on a medication. I chose the strongest one because I wanted to fight as hard as I could. I would have to give myself injections three times a week and I was ready for the horrible side effects.

The most important thing I remember about that first meeting, was this exchange.

“What is your biggest fear?”

“What if I walk down the hall and fall down and can’t get up?”

He smiled at me.

“Have you ever fallen down?”

“Of course.”

“Have you gotten up?”

“Yes, but now everything is different.”

He shook his head.

“The amount of lesions on your brain indicate that you have had this disease for years. When you fell in the past, you had MS, but you didn’t know it. You are no different today than you were the first day you got your job. Now you know, and now we can fight, but this didn’t happen overnight. You’ve been living with it for years and you have never let it stop you. Why start now?”

That made a difference.

He was right.

I needed to make a decision and move on with my life.

So I did.

I started the shots and felt like I had the flu, but I got dressed every day and went to work. In 13 years, the side effects have never gone away.

I get so tired at times I feel like I could lay down on the floor and just sleep.

Sometimes at the end of the day it’s all I can do to get home before I have to nap.

Sometimes I don’t go out at night because my legs feel so heavy, I can’t imagine walking anywhere.

I became used to the feeling of tingling in my hands and feet and sometimes my arms and legs would feel numb.

I lost the peripheral vision in my eyes a few times, but I have adjusted and learned how to stop panicking when something happens. My family appreciates that. We don’t need to run to the ER every time it happens.

My dad was diabetic and he joked about how I was now “in the club” because I had to give myself shots. His sense of humor made my fear disappear and I knew that I would be okay.

It’s just what we do. We fight. We live.

I didn’t tell many people about my MS for a long time. I didn’t tell my students. I was worried about their reaction. I didn’t want them to look at me and wait for something to happen.

Then I realized that’s what I was still doing.

I’m not ashamed of my disease, but it’s important for people to know that’s not all I am.

My dad took me to Cleveland Clinic for a second opinion on treatment. We wanted to be sure we were doing everything we could and my doctor was all for it. We drove the 3 hours to Cleveland and spent the day there, in their MS wing. It was overwhelming, and my dad just made me laugh. He always did that. He just made everything better.

Our appointment was confirmation that what we were doing was right, and we drove home with the knowledge that I was facing this head on and would do whatever I could to have the best outcome possible.

I was controlling what I could control.

Life went on for a few years and things were okay.

Things were actually pretty good.

Then life decided to remind me who was in charge.

My dad hadn’t been feeling himself for a little while.

He went to the doctor and had some tests done and we waited to find out what was going on.

September 24 we found out he had cancer.

The doctors told him there wasn’t much they could do, but he wanted to fight. He chose an aggressive treatment that would hopefully give him a few more years at least.

That’s what we do.

We take what happens and we fight.

That’s what he taught me and I knew he could do it, too.

November 22 he died.

Eight weeks later and he was gone.

Thanksgiving.

What?

My dad was my hero. He was my biggest cheerleader and he was involved in every aspect of my life. He came to school events to help my yearbook students with photography. He was so proud of me and of my sister and he loved my mom more than anything.

What was this going to mean for all of us?

How would we deal with this? What would we do without him?

I spoke at the funeral and I remember so many of my students were there.

I looked out at the faces of all of the people who loved him and I remembered something important.

He raised his girls to be strong. He raised us to be okay.

And that’s what he deserved.

He deserved our strength and our tenacity.

He believed I would be okay and because of him and his faith in me, I am.

I have had a lot of bad days since he died, but nothing I go through will be as bad as losing him, so I say, bring it on.

I have MS.

I also have hope.

I have MS

I also have a family who supports me.

I have MS

I also have an amazing job where I can inspire people.

I have MS.

I am also a writer with 25 books published.

I have MS

But it will never be all I have.

Thank you.

*******

That was my speech. I remember after speaking, I was shaking so badly because I worried I had just made a colossal mistake.

And then one of my bosses texted me.

“That was amazing. You are an inspiration.”

As I walked out, people hugged me.

I don’t like to be touched, but I allowed it 🙂

I went back to my room and went about my day. I received many calls and texts and emails telling me how much they appreciated what I did.

I had students stop into my room and tell me that this helped them. Some of them had parents with MS and they never thought they could talk about it.

I had some strange stares in the hallway and then realized they probably were thinking about what I said.

Some things bothered me.

When I would drop something in class, a bunch of kids rushed to pick it up. They never did that before and if anyone knows anything about me, it’s that I hate help.

If something is high up and I get a chair to stand on, I have students rush to help me.

Again- they never did that before, but I guess it’s okay.

I just don’t want them to think of me any differently.

Overall, it was an immensely positive experience and I don’t regret it at all.

There are things I didn’t tell them in my speech. I am physically very stable. Looking at me, nobody would know.

But there are things they don’t know.

I have a degree in Musical Theatre, but MS has taken away my ability to sing. I have trouble with vocal control and can’t do what I used to.

I have trouble remembering names. My students are the hardest. I always know who they are, but sometimes names are a struggle. It could also be that I have 180 kids each year. 🙂

I am exhausted most of the time. If I don’t have a chance to nap, then I am useless the next day.

My face is perpetually red from the effects of the MS and the medication. I always look like I just ran somewhere.

But there are so many things that are just fine.

I am entering my 16th year of teaching.

I still love what I do.

I feel good most of the time.

I am never going to stop fighting this disease.

I know this isn’t really book related, but I write characters who struggle like I do and like many of you do.

There is always hope.

 

 

 

 

Wow. That’s a lot of books.

It’s been a long road to get this series out and to the place it is today. When I tell people how many books I’ve written, I get the inevitable gasp and look of incredulity while I shrug and smile.

I get a lot of similar responses.

“Nobody wants to read something that long.”

“It must get repetitive.”

“You must get bored writing the same thing over and over.”

“I only read a series that has at most, three books.”

I usually have the same response.

“I just keep hearing the characters. Their story isn’t over yet.”

So here I am, finishing up book 25 and I wonder if their concerns are valid.

I do have a lot of similar themes running through the series.

People get sick. People get hurt. People do the wrong thing. People help each other. People hurt each other.

People get better. People heal. People inspire. People disappoint.

It’s life and it’s real.

To an extent 🙂

I have always loved episodic television and books. I am a sucker for character development and becoming invested in someone’s story. I certainly see that in stand alone novels and I have my own favorites.

Maybe it’s because I began this series as a way to heal from a personal tragedy or maybe it’s because I see the characters as extensions of real people, I haven’t been able to stop writing them.

I don’t want to.

They are still talking to me.

David and Desi have a story to tell.

Naomi and Bryan are becoming closer.

Sabrina and Tessa are growing and evolving.

Josie is facing a whole new set of issues.

Kevin and Eden and Sara are becoming unique individuals and we will soon have a few new members of the family.

Katie is also returning.

And Jimmy…

But at the crux of my storytelling are Jack and Stephanie and Tommy and Brittany and Bill and Julie and in a much more evolving role, Mike and Jade and Evan and Elizabeth.

Joining them in a more prominent fashion have been Ian and Cassie and now Amber and Jason.

With a cast of so many characters, how can I not keep telling their story? They all have so much to say and my problem is balancing all of their time.

I want to be able to keep the series fresh and I want to have the characters evolve and grow.

I don’t want it to become stale and repetitive and I hope I haven’t.

The heart of this series is family. Strength. Love. Hope. Choice.

You choose who you consider your family.

For the past few months, I have been rewriting “Nothing Matters” and I have realized something really important.

Jack and Stephanie look very little like they did then. Tommy is very different from who he was then.

They have grown and evolved and have become the central driving force which has enabled the other characters to grow.

I see Stephanie on that ledge and I don’t recognize her.

I see Jack as someone with no ties and no responsibilities and I don’t recognize him.

I see Tommy chasing a purpose to his life and I don’t recognize him.

I see Bill and Julie as an engaged couple with no knowledge of what life was about to throw their way.

I don’t recognize them because it’s been 25 books and they aren’t those people anymore. They are more developed and they have grown into characters I adore.

However, the characters I no longer recognize are inside of each of them, and every so often, they reveal themselves.

Sabrina has brought out Jack’s insecurities in a way nobody else could.

Tessa’s self-doubt reminds Stephanie of the struggles she faced.

David shows Bill that he is doing something right, and his lack of parental love has no bearing on his ability to do better. Be better.

Julie sees her parents in her children and is able to create the life and memories with them that she ached to have growing up.

Through Brittany, I have been able to show someone living, no, thriving, despite being handed awful cards in life. She enables me to have a voice against discrimination and a voice in support of victims rights. She is not perfect and she has deep scars, but she lives. She fights. She perseveres. She grows. she learns.

She loves.

Jade. God I love her. She is the heart of all of my insecurities from her big boobs to her weight to her inability to simply feel like she’s enough. It’s so hard to overcome bullying and teasing and not have those voices carry over into adulthood. It doesn’t mean we don’t thrive, but sometimes, it’s really, really hard. I am so proud to write her. I hope she continues to believe in herself and in her worth.

Mike exemplifies the kind of character I never thought I would write. I hate cheating stories. (I think I’ve said that a lot 🙂 but it’s true.) I also worried I was making him too ‘perfect’. Nobody can be that sweet and that amenable to things. Nobody would let themselves be taken advantage of in such a way like Mike did with Rebecca.

But I write it that way because it happens. It’s not always the woman who is left behind. It’s not always the man doing the wrong.

Mike is unique and so is Jade.

How could they not go together? 🙂

Evan and Liz.

They are probably the hardest for me to integrate, story wise. Evan works for Brittany, but he is so much more than that. He has become a part of the family and from the mail I get- he has a lot of fans. I love that. I need to find more ways to tell his story. Bringing Jason and Amber in will help with that.

Tommy.

I hope you didn’t think I forgot him 🙂

He is truly my hero.

I am not sure I have ever created a more flawed character. He infuriates me at times and other times I think he can’t be more perfect. He has deep scars and I’m finding new levels and depths to take him to. What he has been through in the last few books is more than I have put any character through in any one given time and moving forward, he will have to face some harsh truths about his recovery.

I can’t wait to write that.

There is also Ron and Jenny…

They aren’t getting any younger.

Wow. so much going on.

What are your thoughts? What are you looking forward to?

What questions do you have?

Did I forget anyone?

 

 

 

Hi everyone

Good Monday morning to everyone!

I hope you are deep into reading “Strength” and are enjoying it! I am writing more and more and have so much more story to tell you!

I am also having some trouble with my newsletter, so I am switching hosts and hope to have it up and running soon. I received a few notices from readers that they weren’t getting the email verification and so I tried with my second email and I didn’t even get it.

Needless to say, I am going to be running my giveaway again. Please simply reply to this post for a chance to win a $15 Amazon gift card and a signed copy of “Strength” or any of the other books in the series (your choice).

I will pick from the responses received by Thursday.

I will be posting some more insights soon- any other characters you want to ‘talk’ to?

Thank you and happy reading.

-Robin

 

Sabrina Stephens

Sabrina.

The easiest character to write as a baby became the one character I have struggled the most to write as a young adult.

I remember numerous times when I was writing and my family would see me looking puzzled and ask what was wrong.

“I’m just not liking Sabrina right now. I don’t understand her anymore.”

“Well, you made her, so make her do something different. Figure it out.”

It sounded pretty reasonable and this went on for many a writing session.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like her, but she was evolving and changing and I wasn’t giving her the space she needed.

I spent a ton of time developing David and Naomi and even Tess and Josie and Sabrina was always kind of there, the obligatory flirt who had everything given to her. The spitting image of her dad in spunk and beauty and confidence.

Until she wasn’t.

She had become too much of a cliché, and I hated that.

I also hated how she hurt David.

I know- my fault again- but I just didn’t see them fitting together anymore. He would never break it off, so it needed to be her.

“Strength” takes Bee down the path where things must change for her. She does something incredibly cruel and out of character and it directly affects the rest of the family- Naomi the most.

Sabrina has been struggling, and I finally figured out why.

It’s lonely when people think you have it all.

It’s hard being left behind.

It’s tough to admit when you make mistakes and for Bee, she doesn’t understand a huge part of what happened to her.

What I mean, is that dumping David was one thing, but going out with Drew, who turned into such a terrible person was something she can’t comprehend. Being surrounded by people like Derek and Jacob is not anything she wanted.

Why didn’t she see who he was?

How could she leave someone so amazing for such a pig?

Bee has always been beautiful and confident, but she is honest and caring and doesn’t hurt people for spite. She wanted to move on, but in doing so, she realized a harsh lesson.

Sometimes you can’t go back.

In talking with her, or rather listening to her, she was hurt that David  moved on so completely.

Nobody blames him. Bee broke his heart, and what he found with Desi is nothing like what he had with Bee.

But for Sabrina, she was replaceable, and that hurt.

A lot.

Being thrown together their whole lives, Bee and David have the kind of relationship I never want to disappear completely. I see them as adults, relying on each other and being there for each other through everything, much like Julie and Jack.

But we aren’t there yet, and as teenagers, there are a lot of lessons still to learn.

Hard lessons.

I’ll let you in on a little interview with Bee. Maybe it will reveal more.

This book will be full of harsh lessons for Sabrina, but ultimately, it’s about hitting bottom so you can begin to move up.

I see great things for her. This is just a bump in the road.

Okay, a boulder 🙂

*******

Interviewer: Hi Sabrina. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

Bee: Sure.

Interviewer: Are you ready to be back in school? How has summer been going for you?

Bee: Fine. It’s been okay I guess, but it’s time to go back. Besides, things are different now, so I don’t really know what to expect.

Interviewer: What do you mean?

Bee: Nothing.

Interviewer: Oh, well it sounds like something has changed.

Bee: My mom is pregnant with twins, so that’s weird, but I’m also kind of a loner now and that’s not something I like.

Interviewer: How do you feel about your mom being pregnant?

Bee: Fine I guess. Tess is worried about her health, but I think she’ll be fine.

Interviewer: Is your mom sick?

Bee: Well she’s older and has MS, so it’s a lot for her to handle, but she handles everything, so I’m sure this will be okay.

Interviewer: I’m sure it will, too. Why are you a loner now?

Bee: Huh?

Interviewer: You said you are kind of a loner now.

Bee: Oh, well I don’t have a boyfriend and I got rid of most of my friends who liked Drew and Derek. I may be a lot of things, but I will never be with people who support rapists.

Interviewer: Wow, that’s a lot to handle.

Bee: Not really. None of it happened to me. I just hurt people who liked me. I think I still have to make up for that.

Interviewer: Who did you hurt?

Bee: It doesn’t matter. Are we almost done?

Interviewer: Let’s change the subject. You’re into fashion, right?

Bee: Yeah. I want to be a designer. I hope to model, too, but my dad won’t let me.

Interviewer: How come?

Bee: I don’t know. I don’t think he trusts that I can handle myself. Besides, with the new babies coming and his surgical practice, he doesn’t have time to devote to what it would take for me to get an agent and stuff.

Interviewer: Have you asked him or your mom?

Bee: No. They are both busy. My Uncle was hurt really badly and that is most important right now.

Interviewer: Is your Uncle doing any better?

Bee: Yeah, but it was really bad.

Interviewer: So aside from fashion, what kinds of things do you like?

Bee: Well, I would say boys, namely Bryan, but I don’t know much about him yet.

Interviewer: Who is Bryan?

Bee: He is Jason and Amber’s son. They are moving here so he will be in school with us. He’s really handsome and from LA.

Interviewer: What else do you know about him? What kinds of things does he like?

Bee: I don’t know. I guess I should probably ask that.

Interviewer: Other than boys, is there anything else you’re excited about?

Bee: I guess I’m excited to start the year with no expectations. Nobody is expecting me to be with anyone and I can just figure things out on my own, you know? I can do what I want and soon I’ll have my license and I can go places. I’m tired of being stuck. I want to get a job and save money and get ready for college.

Interviewer: That sounds like a good plan.

Bee: I guess it does. This year I need to figure out who I am, you know? Not what everyone else thinks, but who I am.

Interviewer: Well I hope you are able to do just that.

Bee: Me too.

Interviewer: Thank you for talking with me.

Bee: Thanks.

****************

Tomorrow Strength is released. I can’t wait to read what you think.

Any more questions? Ask away.

 

 

Desiderata Yearling

It was a year ago that I first introduced Desi and her father to my readers. It was far earlier than that when I met her.

Desi came to me in the midst of rediscovering the series and moving the characters forward 9 years. I needed a spark for the teens in order to advance their story and to be honest, I needed a spark for me as a writer.

I also hated that I have never really been able to bring my love for animals into the series. Sure, Tramp was my way in, but I wanted more. I wanted to use the humor the animals bring to my life. I wanted to share my passion for all animals with the characters in the series.

Enter Ian.

Making him a large animal vet was strategic on my part. I wanted him to be able to handle animals we don’t usually see, and more importantly, I needed to introduce the farm.

Back to Desi.

When I first “met” Desi, I didn’t know exactly what she would mean to the series. I thought of her as a friend to Tessa because of their love for animals. I thought of her as a foil to Bee, kind of the quiet attractive type. I thought of her as a troubled girl because of her mom being away for so long.

But none of that really fit, the more I began to talk to her.

She seemed troubled to me, but not in the normal teenage angsty way.

She had been through something, and because of that, her life had been different.

It took me a bit longer to figure out what that was.

Enter Tommy.

Even though Tommy is a pediatric oncologist, I don’t focus much on his individual cases. To be honest, I don’t really focus too much on any of the medical cases unless they deal directly with the family. (I know so many of them do).

It hasn’t been since Courtney was here that I made room for Tommy’s practice to come into the series.

That was where Desi had been. She was hiding in his practice, so to speak. She had connections to our family by choice.

We just didn’t know it yet.

Her story came to me slowly. I always pictured her with beautiful long blonde hair and bright blue eyes that were hidden behind a wall of pain.

She always seemed old for her age, like her experiences were far more adult than they should have been.

I saw her as strong and powerful, but invisible to most people.

I saw her as so many of my students appear to be.

Just waiting for a chance to show who they are.

That was why I chose to make Desi’s first introduction to the readers when David first meets her.

His reaction needed to be our reaction, in a way.

His eyes opening to her needed to be all of us seeing her for the first time.

I needed her to be important. I needed her to be liked and welcomed.

Before I threw everything at her.

I think it might be easier if I have her tell you some of her thoughts about life.

Introducing…

Desiderata.

*******

Interviewer: Hi Desi. Is it okay if I call you that?

Desi: Sure- my full name is a mouthful.

Interviewer: It’s a beautiful poem.

Desi: Yeah, but it’s still strange for a name.

Interviewer: So I wanted to ask you a few questions to get to know you. Are you up for that?

Desi: Sure- ask away.

Interviewer: Can you tell me about your childhood?

Desi looked confused.

Desi: What do you mean? Like my illness?

Interviewer: Not necessarily. What did you do for fun?

Desi: I don’t know. I guess I hung out at the farm a lot. When I wasn’t in the hospital or getting treatments, I was able to go to school, so I liked that. It was hard, though. I never really got to hang out with a lot of kids my age. Except Katie.

Interviewer: Who is Katie?

Desi’s face lit up.

Desi: She is my best friend. She has always been there for me. (Her face darkened). I can’t say I’ve been the same for her.

Interviewer: What do you mean?

Desi: Nothing. Let’s change the subject.

Interviewer: Okay. Tell me about David.

Desi: What about him?

Interviewer: When did you meet?

Desi: Officially? When he was a jerk at the farm, but I’ve known him since we were like 7. He never knew I existed, but I knew he was there. His mom was my teacher in 6th grade.

Interviewer: Why didn’t you talk to him?

Desi: (Shrugging) He was a bit out of my league. Besides, Sabrina Stephens was with him all the time and she’s not someone I would have a chance against.

Interviewer: Is she mean?

Desi: No, she’s actually really nice, but she has everything going for her and I didn’t really have much to offer. Besides, David never looked twice at me. He isn’t really all that observant. (she smiled)

Interviewer: You told him that, didn’t you?

Desi: (smiling) Well he tends to get lost in his troubles. I’m trying to help him with that. I feel badly when he’s worried about things.

Interviewer: So you two are a couple now?

Desi blushed.

Desi: Yeah, I guess we are.

Interviewer: What kinds of things do you like about him?

Desi: He’s kind and caring. He knows what it’s like to have a parent in the military and he seems to genuinely like me. He puts up with my dad and that’s a hassle. He also takes my issues on like they aren’t so heavy. He’s also incredibly handsome and funny.

Interviewer: What kind of issues?

Desi: I have cancer and I went through something pretty awful almost a year ago. He has been with me the whole time and I guess I didn’t expect he would.

Interviewer: Why? Is he shallow?

Desi: No, it’s not that, but when you’re 16, dealing with life or death issues can be a downer. He doesn’t let it get to him. He loves me anyway.

Interviewer: Do you love him?

Desi: Yeah, very much.

Interviewer: So what are your plans for the future?

Desi: I need to get my GED. I am not going to be able to go back to school in the traditional way, but I’m going to take classes online. I’d like to go to college, but I don’t know that I’ve really thought that far ahead. A lot can happen in a year.

Interviewer: Why can’t you go back to school?

Desi: It holds a lot of bad memories for me and I’ve already missed the first half of the year because of my cancer coming back. It’s my junior year and so I need to be able to focus somewhat on studies so I can get ready to apply to college. My parents are going to get me a tutor to help. I’m fine learning that way.

Interviewer: Isn’t it a little lonely?

Desi: Yeah, a little.

Interviewer: Let’s change the subject. How is it with your mom being home? Are things finally back to normal?

Desi: It’s awesome, but she came home to a mess. I am so proud of how much she does for me and my dad. She never stops being there for us when I know she is dealing with so much after being away for so long. She served three tours and I can’t imagine what she’s had to endure. It sort of makes my issues seem much smaller.

Interviewer: Have you asked her about it?

Desi: Not really. Do you think I should? I mean, I don’t know.

Interviewer: I was just wondering. I’m sure you know best what your mom wants to talk about.

Desi was quiet.

Desi: Yeah, maybe.

Interviewer: So before we end, what do you want people to know about you?

Desi: I don’t know. Maybe that I’m more than the issues I carry? I guess I want to make something of myself so I’m worth the faith people put in me. I want to be happy and healthy and I guess I want to make a difference in the world.

Interviewer: Thank you so much.

***********************

Who do you want tomorrow? What else do you want to know?

Also- don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter for a chance to win a $15 Amazon gift card.

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A young adult novel? A contest? WooHoo!

With “Strength” coming out in a few days, I wanted to bring some interesting “behind the scenes” issues to light.

Each day I will posting a new bit of insight into each part of the series.

Although the story focuses at first on Julie, it is also full of so much more- Tommy and Brittany and Jack and Stephanie along with all of the kids and their ongoing drama.

This brings me to today’s post.

I have never really wanted to write a young adult novel. I don’t think it’s my forte and I struggle a lot with making the kids sound unique, and not simply smaller versions of their parents. I’m still working on that.

But the more I had the story move forward, the more the kids became their own individuals.

Surprisingly, maybe or maybe not, the hardest one for me to write is David.

I was going back over my past posts and I have written a couple with David as a focus- I even did an interview with him that was pretty accurate for where he was at the time.

But the past few books, he has dealt with such traumatic stuff, that I find myself questioning who I want him to be.

I spend a lot of time sitting in my classroom full of 15  to 17 year olds and listening. I try to see David and Desi and Bee and Natalie. I look for Josie and Tess and I wonder if how I write them is accurate enough.

I even let my AP writing class look at the dialogue from when Desi and David first met, and I asked them for their feedback.

(I told them after it was from my book).

I guess I worry about bringing the best version of each character to the forefront- flaws and all. I want the kids to resemble their parents, but be their own individuals.

That’s why it has been such a journey for me and for David.

******

I thought for a long time about what I was about to have happen to Desi. I worried it was too much. I worried it was unnecessary. I worried I was introducing this brand new character to everyone and then throwing every horrific situation I could find at her.

But then I remembered my answer when people ask my why I gave my heroine HIV.

We can’t always wish away our issues. Sometimes, love isn’t a cure, but rather a sense of hope.

Maybe living through horrible moments helps us to grow as individuals.

Even if there was a cure for HIV, Brittany’s trauma wouldn’t disappear. It will always be a part of her past and it has shaped every part of her future.

So I went ahead with Desi’s attack.

I also knew, moving forward, that Derek, Drew and Jacob would be more trouble and that would have far reaching consequences for many of the characters, including Evan and Liz, and as we now know- Julie.

I also struggled with having David find Desi in the dirt.

At this point in their relationship, if you could even call it that, things were just beginning.

David was still hurting from Bee and Desi had just learned her cancer was back.

Neither one of them had begun to truly let their guards down and then something seemingly insurmountable happened.

It was also very calculated on my part to have Ian be a single father trying to go through this without his wife.

Add that to the cruelty list.

I always knew Tommy was Desi’s doctor, and I wanted that connection for Tommy to be there to help Ian, too. Not from a doctor’s perspective, but from someone who loves a survivor.

It also enabled my to bring up Chris’ involvement in Brittany’s attack and for Bill to finally let his children in on something he was petrified to tell them.

Back to David.

Having never covered a rape during the story, I wanted to be sure I was accurate and sensitive to what Desi was going through and I wanted to be equally accurate in the anger and fear the rest of the kids were feeling.

I also worried about having it happen at the school. As a teacher, we work tirelessly to make dances a safe and happy place.

But this was relevant for the story moving forward, so I went ahead with it.

I knew Desi would not ever return to school there.

But the rest of the kids would.

Bringing Cassie home was my next point and I wanted to how the torment In felt at what he perceived to be his failure. His wife left and things were great at home. She came back to a horror story and he was at a loss.

I also needed to introduce Cassie as someone to root for. I wanted everyone to love her and welcome her back and I needed to show her fear as a mother and her love for her family in the midst of her own injury and handling of being in battle for so long.

It’s a balance I’m still working on.

My biggest hurdle here was Desi.

I had just introduced her and then I piled on the trauma. I was fighting against the idea that the only girl for David was Sabrina and I needed people to root for Desi and David.

I wanted her to be strong and passionate and I needed her to bring out a side of David we hadn’t seen yet.

I also needed David to become his own man- apart from his dad and apart from Bee.

The love story blossoming between David and Desi is different for me. They are dealing with incredibly adult issues but they are also handling their first real feelings of love.

David is a protector. He learned that from his dad and being surrounded with so many girls his whole life has made it seem like his duty.

He is also struggling with the power he has as a man and the danger he has seen other’s around him do.

His turning point comes when Jacob goes after his mom.

None of them saw that coming, and the repercussions will be long lasting for all of them.

I can’t wait for you to read Strength!

Please click below to preorder your copy before Thursday.

Also, tomorrow I will be posting an interview with Desi. Do you have any specific questions you would like to me to ask her?

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A preview of Strength

Strength is about a lot of things. First and foremost, it’s about Julie and her fight for survival. It’s about David and his ties to Desi and his fear for her health. It’s about Sabrina finding her way amidst the mess of her social life.

It’s about Stephanie and Jack dealing with her pregnancy and all that comes with bringing a new child into the world.

It’s also about the strength of spirit and survival for Tommy.

Other than what happened to Brittany years ago, I have never put a character through the length of torture that I just had Tommy go through. It was sudden, vicious and completely unexpected.

It has left him and his entire family reeling and the life they knew will never be the same.

This preview deals with Tommy as he begins to come to terms with all he has been through, and for the first time in his life, he is unable to proceed without help.

For Tommy, that is the most vulnerable he has ever been.

It’s heartbreaking for him to face the truth.

He realizes that continuing with the life and job he worked so hard for may be out of his control.

His strength is tested.

So is his will.

Introducing, Strength.

_______________________________________

Tommy sat in the chair in the shower and slowly pulled his gown off.

His right hand was pretty much useless and he fought back his fear about that.

The bandages were removed from his legs, and all that was there was the black stitching covered by waterproof see through strips.

“You think you can escape? You think tying you up is the worst I can do?” Paul said as he pulled out the barbed wire.You know nothing about what I have planned. You have no idea the punishment I want you to endure.”

Memories flooded his mind as he recalled moments in captivity.

“What the hell are you doing? You’re a sick freak!” Tommy said. 

“You have a sister. What would you do if someone she loved destroyed her? Took her away from you? Don’t tell me you wouldn’t do the same thing, you judgmental prick.”

Tommy looked at the wire and felt a sweat break out over his brow. “

What do you think will happen if I shock you with wire in your legs?” Paul asked as he tightened Tommy’s hands before he threw the wire over his thighs. 

Tommy sucked in his breath as the pain radiated through his body. The wire sank into his flesh, ripping through his pants and tearing his skin. 

Paul wrapped the ends of the wire and pulled it taut, causing Tommy to almost black out. 

“Not going to cry? Strong guy, huh?” Paul grinned. 

“Fuck you,” Tommy said, fighting to stay alert. He could feel his pants soaking with blood. “Fuck you and your piece of shit sister.”

Paul took the taser and looked at him. 

“Electricity travels through metal, right?” he said. “Wonder if your heart will explode again. You’re a doctor, what can I expect? Will it be painful?”

Tommy tried to move, but it was useless. He felt the wires deep in his flesh and he knew he could do nothing to stop this. 

He prayed Naomi had gotten to safety. 

He prayed his wife knew how much he loved her. 

The voltage ripped through his body and he blacked out.

Tommy ran his fingers over the bandages and tried to stop the memories.

His legs had almost been severed. He knew that. He also knew how hard it must have been for Jack to see him like that.

His wife saw him, too.

And Naomi…

“Tommy?” he heard a knock on the bathroom door.

It was Brittany.

Why couldn’t he respond?

“Can I come in?”

He moved a little and felt a pain in his side.

Burns.

His side had burn marks from the fucking taser.

He felt the voltage.

He felt the pain.

He felt the fear.

He shivered in the cool air.

How long had he been sitting there?

There were hands on him and he jumped, falling off the chair.

“It’s just me,” Brittany said as she knelt on the floor of the shower with him. “Tommy? It’s okay, I was just worried.”

He blinked and looked at her.

“Red? What happened? Am I naked? I need to cover up,” he said then looked at the floor. “I’m going to be sick.”

She grabbed a bin and he held it, taking a few deep breaths while she grabbed a cool washcloth.

“I’m okay,” he said as she wiped his face. “It passed.”

She took the bin and put it down.

“Can I have a towel? I need to cover up.”

She handed him a towel and fought back her tears.

“You don’t have to cover yourself in front of me.”

He leaned against the wall and sighed.

“I remembered.”

She moved to sit on the floor with him and she took his hand, ignoring the marks on his body.

“I figured,” she smiled. “Do you want to tell me about it?”

His green eyes met hers and she saw his sadness.

“I remember when he put the wires in my legs. I remember the pain and the fear. I didn’t remember that before,” he said. “And my side is a mess. He burned my skin. Everything is a mess.”

“You are not a mess,” she said and smiled. “You are strong and amazing and you are a survivor. What you’ve been through is beyond comprehension. I can’t begin to wrap my mind around what you endured and I am eternally grateful that you are here. You are my whole world and every day from now on will be better than the last. You are going to be okay, I promise. But here, right now and always with me, you can be scared and vulnerable. You don’t have to be brave. You can cry and scream and yell and I can take it. I’m here with you, through all of it.”

“Sitting on the floor of a shower in the hospital?” he asked and smiled for the first time.

She grinned.  “Not my first choice, but I would sit anywhere with you.”

“What if I can’t get through this?” he asked as his tears fell. “I have always been able to handle things. I have gotten through a lot in my life and I need to figure out how to move through this. I just don’t know that I can. I can’t seem to figure out how.”

“You know, when I was at my lowest point, when I forgot everything that I had learned about how to deal with all I had been through, do you know what helped me?”

He looked at her and nodded.

“I locked you in the house with me and it backfired. You ended up going away to the hospital and it was the worst week of my life. I don’t want to do that. I just want to come home. I just need to see that I can live my life again.”

She smiled.

“You didn’t lock me in the house with you and you forgot to mention that I stabbed you.”

He shrugged.

“It was just a scratch.”

She stroked his cheek.

“What helped me was knowing that someone had my back. Someone who loved me despite the craziness I brought into his life. Someone who looked at me like I was worth this life.”

He looked down and she tilted his face back to hers.

“I have your back. I will do everything in my power to help you and you will learn what I already know. You have strength in spades, Tommy. You are going to be okay.”

He nodded.

“I need to take a shower. That’s what I came in here to do. I don’t know what happened.”

“Well, let’s get you back up in the chair and then finish the shower.”

“I don’t want anyone to come in. I can get up on my own.”

She sighed.

“How about I help you?”

“I’ll break you,” he said.

“I’m pretty strong,” she said. “I think it’s time you lean on me. Literally.”

He reached up with his good hand and grabbed the handrail. She put his other arm around her shoulders and stood up with him enough for him to sit on the chair.

“See? We can do this together,” she said and handed him the towel.

She went to move and he grabbed her hand.

“Will you stay and help me?”

“Of course.”

He closed his eyes as the water fell over him and when her hands massaged his hair, he felt a sense of home wash over him. She helped him wash his body and when he was clean, she grabbed a towel and gently dried him before she took another and covered his hair.

“Let me grab your clothes.”

“Okay,” he said as she walked out.

He did his best to finish drying himself and then he grabbed the rail and pulled himself up to a standing position without thinking.

“What are you doing?” Brittany asked as she walked in.

“I can stand,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about it, I just did it.”

She put his clothes on the counter and walked to him.

“I love you, but please don’t push yourself too hard.”

“I won’t, but I need to push a little. I have to get out of here and it can only happen if I stop babying myself. I can do this. I am going to get better.”

She nodded and handed him his own t-shirt and shorts.

“I thought this might be more comfortable,” she smiled.

“It’s perfect, thank you.”

She brought in the walker and he held onto it while she helped him with his shorts.

“Let me get the wheelchair to help you back to bed.”

“Okay,” he said, knowing he shouldn’t walk yet.

She came back with the chair and he used the walker to help him sit down. She pushed him to the bed, which had fresh sheets, and she opened the walker before moving to help him.

He stood up on his own and turned to sit on the bed.

“How do you feel?” she asked.

“Tired but really good. I want to walk. I need to walk.”

She nodded as she tucked him in.

“I think you will be able to walk more tomorrow. You did a lot, both physically and emotionally. Just rest tonight.”

He nodded and closed his eyes, exhausted.

She sat with him as he slept and finally let her tears fall.

He just needed to come home.

She needed to help him.

She also needed him to help her.

For now, she would make sure he didn’t feel alone.

_________________________________________________________________

Please don’t forget to preorder your copy of Strength today!

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Strength

Are you guys ready for a sneak preview of Strength? What are you excited for? Nervous?

I can’t wait for you to read this one and I think you will be very proud of how the entire family comes together.

I will also have a trivia contest for a signed copy of Strength before you can buy it. That will be coming up by the end of the week.

Tomorrow there will be a preview of Strength!

Don’t forget to preorder today and click below to enter an awesome giveaway with fabulous authors. (me included ) 🙂

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