If Only

Welcome! Tommy is the character I think I’m most protective of when I talk about the series. His story is incredibly unique and one I think isn’t so unheard of. Many teens go through unimaginable loss and take so much of life’s responsibility on their own shoulders. As a high school teacher, I see the strength many of my students have. I know their struggles and I am cognizant of the fact that although I see them 2 hours a day, they spend the other 22 hours in all sorts of situations.

Tommy was the typical high school graduate. Handsome, smart, accepted to a prestigious University and rooming with his best friend. He had loving parents who supported him and a sister who worshipped him. He liked to complain at how annoyed he was at Julie, but deep down, he adored her. When he received the call that his parents were in the accident, his world was shattered, but at that moment, the Tommy we meet in the series was born. Gone was the carefree attitude and what emerged was the man he needed to become; not just for Julie, but for him to survive. He needed a purpose. He needed a reason. Jack was the only one who knew how close Tommy came to giving up. Jack and Tommy made a decision, without acknowledging it, to become family. They already were, but in times of crisis, family isn’t just born, it thrives.

Tommy’s back story was developed much as an afterthought. It isn’t that I came up with it late, but I didn’t intend for Tommy to be developed much at all. I was really naïve. I initially created Tommy as a sounding board for Jack in Nothing Matters. He was the friend who was like a brother, but it never occurred to me to make more of him. The book wasn’t going to be part of a series, it was simply a stand alone, and Tommy was just a character. Then  I had people pre read Nothing Matters. I received a lot of positive feedback, but something I wasn’t expecting, was the outcry for more Tommy. I kept getting messages from readers asking for a romance for Tommy. They loved him and wanted more. I realized that I did, too, and a series was born.

Tommy’s name came from a song by Kenny Rogers called “Coward of the county”. It was something I listened to growing up and it was the most fitting example of who Tommy is. Tommy deserves happiness. He deserves a profound love and he deserves someone who adores him. He deserves his Red.

Brittany Rose Anthony

I get asked so often to describe the heroine of my stories. I know they mean Brittany and I always struggle. I adore Stephanie and Julie and Jade and Elizabeth and every other woman who is a strong fierce presence in this series, but I’ve always struggled with putting Brittany into words. (This is a problem when taking to publishers).

I realize how ridiculous that sounds because she only exists in words, but let me try and explain.

I look at Brittany like I look at my own life. She has lived two distinct realities. One as Barbara and one as Brittany. I feel a kinship with her because I feel, in a way, I have lived two lives. I lived before writing and I’ve lived after.

Before writing, I was a normal kid with loving parents and friends and lots of quirks that I know gave my parents a ton of stress. I was not a good student and I struggled a lot with where I fit in. My mom must have thought she had a tumor with how I attached myself to her and I went through intense separation anxiety. I adored animals and worked in a pet store in high school and tried to bring home every stray I could. I’m sure my mom can tell you all about “Albert” the chicken I kept after the biology experiment in high school. We were supposed to give the chicks back after it was over, but Albert had bonded with me and I him. I couldn’t watch him go to the big bad place, so I kept him- in my bedroom. (Mind you- my favorite food has always been chicken, but I digress). They weren’t getting Albert.

Well, a cute chick is one thing, but a full grown chicken who pecks and poops everywhere is another, especially when you move into an apartment. Eventually, Albert had to go, but I found a family friend who had a farm and assured me Albert would not be made into food. I believed them and I stay with that. I pray I have never eaten Albert…

I also took in 2 chicks from the veterinary hospital where I worked. They needed extra care before they were taken to a farm, so I took them in. I named them “Shake” and “Bake”. What can I say- I have a messed up sense of humor.

I think I owe my mom another thank you for allowing my chicken phase and don’t be surprised when one of the children in the novels brings home their own ‘friend’. My money is on Tessa.

Back to Brittany, and how we are alike.

Once I got into college (which was a miracle in itself) I worked as a nanny for twin boys the first year. I commuted to school, lived at home and joined a sorority. For someone who already struggled in class, this was a challenge, but something pretty amazing began to happen.

I grew up. I finally found something that truly made me happy and I went for it. I had always loved to sing and I was in very minor community theatre engagements. I began to pursue a degree in theatre along with my degree in Literature and I decided to audition for AMDA (American musical and dramatics academy) in New York City.

They didn’t audition in Detroit, so I had to go to Chicago and prepare a song and two monologues to perform. It was the scariest thing I ever did and I will never forget that weekend. My dad drove me to Chicago. It was February and there was a ton of snow and no end in sight to how much we got. It was a white knuckle drive for me in the passenger seat (my dad had no worries as he loved cars and driving). By the time we got there, I was so nervous. I remember checking into the audition and signing up for my time when I heard someone in the room behind us practicing. She sounded like the most amazing opera singer and I was way out of my league. I told my dad I wanted to go home. I cried. I was not 22 years old, but 10 and I wanted to leave. NOW.

My dad took out his newspaper (before ipads or iphones) and sat down with his coffee. He smiled.

“We will leave, as soon as you audition. Have fun.”

There it was. We weren’t leaving. I had no choice.

“But I’m terrible. I can’t do it. I’ll embarrass myself and you.”

My dad took a sip of his coffee.

“Won’t be the first time. Have fun.”

Shit.

So, I auditioned. I sucked. We went home. I didn’t get in.

But I gained something really important.

I did something I never had before and I survived.

The next year, I drove myself to Toronto with friends to audition.

I got in.

I never went to the school, but that’s another story for another time. The point is, I got in and nobody can ever take that from me. If my dad hadn’t made me do it, I never would have gone back and I never would have pushed myself.

That’s where Barb’s father Nate comes in. He would have done anything for Barbara and he did. He was in way over his head and I think he knew that, but it didn’t matter. His daughter was everything to him and he taught her everything he could about life and love.

My dad did that, too. He was surrounded by women. Between my mom and my sister and me, he was outnumbered. I think that was just what he wanted. He adored his girls and I try to write a lot of that in the series. I think that’s why, as the series goes on, there are so many kids who are girls. It’s what I know.

My dad did insist on our pets being male- to balance things out. 🙂

Barbara had a great life with Nate and even after he died, his love of music flowed through her. She sang because she loved it, but also because it kept a special part of her dad alive within her. When her attack happened, she stopped everything, and in a way, lost her dad again.

I find a lot of parallels within my own life at this point. After my audition, I continued with school and graduated. I stayed working at the veterinary hospital and doing community theater and it wasn’t until a few years later that I decided to go back for my teaching degree.

It was during that time I suffered three of the biggest losses of my life to that point. I lost my Grandma Rose, my Aunt Barbara and then My Grandma Julia. I was also diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Then I turned 31.

These losses happened over a period of time, during which I graduated with my teaching degree and began working as a full time English/drama teacher. I moved out of my parent’s place and was beginning a life of my own. The character of Barbara/Brittany was sitting in my notebook, coming along for the ride, but never evolving.

When my dad got sick, it was 8 weeks from the day of diagnosis to the funeral. 8 weeks. Up until the moment he went into the hospital, he was still working and driving. He was my dad. He would be fine. He told me that.  He was diagnosed on September 24 and September 25 is my birthday. He texted me at work and said. “I’ll be fine. Don’t worry.” I still have the text.

I was 36 and I was the baby. I was too young to deal with this and I didn’t know what to do. I had every bit of support a person could ask for and I knew of a million ways to get help if I needed it. My mother was a rock of strength and my sister was and is my hero.

But my daddy was gone.

I changed during that time. I wasn’t so optimistic. I wasn’t so sure the bad guys were being held at bay. I wasn’t sure I would ever feel truly okay again.

I wrote his eulogy. I spoke at his funeral. I smiled and hugged people and did what I was supposed to do. It was the week of Thanksgiving, so people were busy. They went back to their lives. It was quiet. It was lonely. It was different.

Then something occurred to me.

My dad and mom raised me to be strong. They raised me to be able to withstand the sadness that life throws at you. My dad needed us all to live. That would be the greatest tribute to his life. To make him proud and to live. Plain and simple.

I think I was probably the last to figure that out. I was scared to be okay, because I was afraid that meant I was ‘over’ losing him. I realize now that it doesn’t. I don’t think I’ll ever be over losing him. What it did mean was that I needed to do what made me happy. I needed to find that outlet where I could be the person I knew was in there.

I pulled the notebook out and took a look at the beautiful redhead who was waiting for guidance.

Barbara changing into Brittany was a little like me after my dad died. I was different. I changed. I had the qualities from before, but my entire outlook on the world was now different. I began to write, really write, and through the characters, I began to free myself. I found a way to honor my dad and share something with my mom (who reads every chapter before anyone else) and surprise those who never knew I ever wanted to write.

Brittany is such a complex character. I see her as me and you and every person who has been dealt a hand that seemed to go nowhere but down. I also see her as an inspiration, but not because of what she does, but who she is. She gets up every day and makes it the best she can. Some days are great and others aren’t.

This series is a tribute to strength. It’s understandable to run when something so horrific happens. What is truly heartbreaking to Brittany is the way she left every aspect of her life behind. Everything her dad taught her and every part of her that came from him was ignored.

Sometimes we can’t see how to get out of our current hell. Sometimes the only option is to shut down and close ourselves off. Brittany is alone and she feels that’s where she deserves to be.

It isn’t as simple as Tommy finding her. She doesn’t believe she is worth this life. Her current situation is reaffirming that thought.

Sometimes we have simply had enough.

If Only is a story of triumph and love. It is also a story of hope.

Thank you for reading.

Click the image below for a free copy of “If Only”. Enter code:  AU48E at checkout!

if only front copy

One thought on “If Only

  1. What a great read. Anyone who has not read your books will get a wonderful introduction. And seasoned followers will love the memories. I feel a need to go back and remember what lead me to your books. Struggling with MS myself, I was reading an issue in Momentum (MS magazine). Nothing Matters was introduced as being written by an MS’er and one character has MS. A free copy was offered. That free offer got me hooked. Thanks Robin.

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