Moving the series ahead nine years brought a lot of opportunities to explore, as well as a lot of challenges. I had to consider all of the issues and experiences the characters lived through during the nine years we missed. I also had to discover the voices of the children now that they were older.
I never wanted to write the kids as mini versions of their parents. While they embody the core morals and values of their parents, they are truly their own people and I needed to allow them to explore the world around them.
I also had my hands full with Mike and where his story was headed.
First and foremost, at the end of “Red”, the parents faced the reality that the kids would have to learn about their pasts. Brittany was especially worried about this for obvious reasons, and it took me a while to decide how to have that discussion.
I wasn’t sure of Naomi’s reaction.
I didn’t know if she would be mad or hurt or scared or confused. I worried about her reaction like Tommy and Brittany did and then it occurred to me.
Living in this day and age, there was no way she would have avoided any and all press about her mom.
So I helped them out. I had her know a little about it and they filled in the rest. It also reinforced that the kids are going to run into all of this- whether or not the adults are ready.
Back to the most pressing matter at hand.
Did I consider killing him?
I also considered having his heart be the one that saved Jade.
But when I thought about it, I realized how cruel that would be as well as how detrimental it would be to the stories I had planned.
Mike is tied to so many stories on the canvas, Jimmy and Rebecca and Nick being the biggest.
Sara and Eden don’t even know Mike was married once before and Jimmy knows nothing about Rebecca. If he survives, he’s bound to have questions.
Jade needs her husband and the twins need their father, but I know that what we need is not always what happens. Life works in ways we can never predict.
But still, it occurred to me that Mike’s return would allow for some amazing stories for the whole canvas.
So he was found alive, but in worse shape than any injury I have written.
I decided that he would live, for now, but his recovery was not a guarantee.
I began Left Behind with Jade in a position of strength. I have always been irritated with myself for writing her so passive. Yes, she was nervous and shy and innocent and suffered a lot in her life.
But she is not someone who is weak and I wanted her strength and love for her family to stand out.
Going through a heart transplant while being a single mother of twins requires a special tenacity and belief in yourself. I wanted to show that.
I also wanted Mike to know that he had someone at home who couldn’t wait for him to return.
Having Evan and Elizabeth and Alec involved in the rescue was fun and I missed Alec. He had been used in “Love Endures” and not again. I liked bringing him back. In fact, we may see more of him in the future.
Moving on, I also had the fact that Brittany was pregnant and nobody outside of Tommy knew. Having her go with Bill was a stretch, but they believed it was to bring home a body, nothing more.
I loved having Jack figure out Tommy was hiding something and their connection is something I still love writing.
Almost every time I write in a pregnancy, I know the outcome. The one exception was when Julie was pregnant with triplets. I didn’t decide to have her miscarry the boys until halfway in. With Brittany, I knew she would lose the baby, but I didn’t know when. I did know it wouldn’t be as a result of her trip.
Back to Mike.
I made his injuries especially gruesome and part of that was to springboard Bill and Julie’s next arc. Bill has never really dealt with all his time overseas has done to him and I wanted this to be a turning point for him. A realization, if you will, of just how much he loves his life and how blessed he is. The problem was that he didn’t know how to deal with it. He didn’t want to burden his family with his struggles.
But when you’re married to someone like Julie, you don’t get to shut her out. That’s why I adore her. She is blunt, powerful, compassionate and vulnerable. She loves how her husband helps others, but she will not tolerate being ignored or seeing her children upset. What happened when Josie got her period and Bill didn’t come home, was some of my favorite scenes. I knew that Julie was missing her mom and a lot of her anger at Bill came from her own sense of loss. When he came home and she leaves to go to a hotel, well that was something that needed to happen. Bill needed to see how his behavior effected his family. When Josie told him she knew he loved her but didn’t think he liked her, I felt the hole grow in Bill’s heart.
He has always been afraid of ending up like his father. Even though he is nothing like him and never has been, Josie’s words killed him.
This would definitely come back to haunt him at the end of the book.
Back to Mike. Bringing him home was just the beginning. His road to recovery would not be easy and it was important for me to show that. There was no quick fix and even at the end of the book, his survival is not guaranteed.
Another story that took shape in Left Behind was Tessa and her health and self esteem issues. I have always had a soft spot for Tessa. She is so sweet and sensitive, but she has an older sister who appears perfect and parents who are incredibly high achievers. Tessa has always had more anxiety than most and her Crohns disease has caused her to be even more withdrawn. She has always felt closer to Mike and through the years, he has taken her to the farm and she has felt a sense of belonging that she didn’t anywhere else.
Tessa missed Mike so much and her fears about being alone seemed to grow each and every time her parents tried to shield her from the truth. They were hoping to protect her. She felt that they didn’t trust her. It is a struggle Jack and Stephanie are going to have deal with as the series moves forward.
Mike’s return allowed Tessa to show her parent’s just how strong she was and their connection helped Tessa feel important and useful.
I also had the budding romance between Naomi and Jimmy as well as David and Bee.
Putting David and Bee together is not a guarantee and having worked with teenagers for many years, I am ready to write the ups and downs. David is a lot like his dad, and although handsome and smart, his self esteem is tenuous.
I also want to show Sabrina as more than a pretty face. She stands up for her family and friends and she is a force to be reckoned with. She will become a bigger character as the series moves forward.
One of my favorite scenes was with David and Bill when they were discussing Bee.
“Oh, so she doesn’t like handsome intelligent boys who come from good families who respect each other.”
“That’s not what I meant. Bee and I have been thrown together since we were born. She is probably tired of me.”
“Well, you seem to be making a lot of assumptions about her and not allowing her to surprise you. If I’ve learned anything by being married to your mom, it’s that I can never make assumptions about what she wants or needs. We need to talk about things and make sure we’re on the same page. It’s not always easy, but it’s better to ask questions and not make guesses.”
“But you and mom are different.”
David played with his napkin.
“You and mom aren’t boys and girls, but mom and dad. You can’t choose to like me or not, it’s your job.”
Bill thought of his own parents and his relief at hearing his son’s reasoning just stopped him in his tracks.
“Dad? Are you okay?” David worried at Bill’s silence.
“Yeah, sorry. I’m just really glad you feel that way.”
I want to focus more on Bill and David’s relationship and I hope to erase some of Bill’s worries that he is like his pwn father.
The truth about Chris will have to be told to David, and he learns a little from Jack and Julie, but in book 20, Bill will sit down and tell David the truth.
He will have no choice.
Left Behind ends with two major points. Jimmy’s accident being the first.
Rebecca was bound to resurface and with Nick being responsible for Mike’s torture, it was only a matter of time before she showed up. I had her first approach Jade and the twins to reintroduce her to the story.
I also had Jimmy and Naomi’s growing friendship as a bright spot in the heaviness of the trauma.
I initially wanted Naomi to be the one injured by Rebecca’s car, but I changed my mind at the last minute.
I wanted to use Jimmy as a catalyst for more truth’s coming out.
Tommy had to operate and Naomi put all her faith in her dad. What he perceived as failure, was anything but where Naomi was concerned.
Jimmy’s story has a long way to go in book 20, and it won’t be easy.
To end Left Behind, I chose to have Josie kidnapped. It was an innocent bike ride and nobody did anything wrong.
None of the adults have ever faced the idea of losing a child in such a brutal and senseless way and for Bill and Julie, this is simply unbearable.
Lives will be forever changed and what happens in book 20 takes many characters by surprise.
It’s not what you expect.
It’s not what you are prepared for.
I hope you love it!