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?

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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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May Book Fair

Introducing…Strength

Hi everyone!

I’m so sorry I’ve been gone for a while, but my life is finally calming down a bit. Even thought I’ve been quiet, I haven’t stopped working on the series or getting book 24 ready for publication!

I am so happy to present the beautiful cover, featuring one of my favorite characters.

More information will be coming shortly and preorder links are on the way.

As always- if you have any questions for me, please ask away!

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Music

I get asked a lot about my inspiration for these characters and I have written a few blogs about where it comes from. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but my main story inspiration always come when I’m driving and listening to music.

I know it sounds weird, but music talks to me. It tells me what I can’t hear sometimes. It speaks for the characters and through listening to lyrics, I hear their stories.

I’ll explain a little, if I can.

I think I’ve said this before, but Tommy comes directly from a Kenny Rogers song, “Coward of the County.” I grew up listening to Kenny and this song always spoke to me. I was confused. Why was he still considered a coward? He stood up for his girl? I didn’t get it.

The song revolves around a boy named Tommy who is considered a coward because his dad (who died in prison when Tommy was 10) told him not to follow the path he did. When three boys went after Tommy’s girlfriend, (in what can be inferred as a rape) he takes them all down. He learns that sometimes it’s okay to fight when it’s important.

That’s my Tommy. He is sweet and tender and loving, but if you hurt who he loves, he will stop at nothing to protect his family.

I have never brought that song into the series, but maybe I will one day.

Another character who comes from a song is one I have brought into the series. “Billy Don’t be a Hero” by Bo Donaldson. I have that record on a 45 and I used to listen to it growing up all the time. My dad’s name was Bill and my mom played that song. I loved it and I still do.

It was fitting that the Bill in my story was a soldier and was ALWAYS trying to be the hero. It’s just who he is. Julie singing him that song on the day they first met was a strategic gamble.

Cliché?

Maybe.

Important to who they became as a couple?

Absolutely.

There are a few songs I have that I use for inspiration on the couples.

Tommy and Brittany have the one that means the most to me.

Rascal Flatts “I won’t let go” is their song.

I remember hearing it for the first time early on in the development of their story. The lyrics were spot on and it was almost as if it was written for them.

“I will stand by you
I will help you through
When you’ve done all you can do
If you can’t cope
I will dry your eyes
I will fight your fight
I will hold you tight
And I won’t let go”

I listen to it a lot when I struggle writing their story. It’s kind of a reminder to me of who they are to each other, and to me.

Sometimes, I use songs to help me when I write flashbacks.

Tim McGraw wrote a song a long time ago called “Can’t be really gone” which was about a woman leaving a man. There is a lyric from that song that has always stuck with me.

“Her book is lying on the bed
The two of hearts to mark her page
Now who could ever walk away at chapter 21
So, she can’t be really gone”

I used this to create the flashback after Julie and Tommy’s parents were killed and Julie found her mom’s book. It was such a simple moment, but it hit me. Her mom was in the middle of the book. How could she be gone when she was in the middle? Julie read each page out loud each night until she was done, so her mom would know the end of the book.

When you lose someone without warning, so many of the minor day to day moments seem suffocating. This song always brings that up for me. How many people find such simple things after a loved one dies?

And it must stop them in their tracks.

Jack and Stephanie are my sexy duo. I don’t know why, but their songs always revolve around sex.

Maybe it’s the whole “Penis and chocolate” issue 🙂

I don’t know.

Joe Cocker “You can leave your hat on” is my favorite for them.

Also- there is a newer song out there that is amazing.

Eric Church “Like a wrecking ball”

Listen to it- you won’t be sorry 🙂

I have a few others, and I would be happy to share. Evan and Liz have a lot of songs and Mike and Jade are pretty creative, too. (I’ll give you a hint…Mike has a Warrant song attached to him).

What are some of your favorite songs?

Also, do you have any questions on how I decided on certain scenes?

Feedback

“I just don’t like Brittany. I didn’t connect with her at all. I didn’t care what happened to her.”

Feedback.

I’ve been thinking about this word a lot lately, and today, things kind of came to a head.

I went to a writers conference today and sat down with an agent who had critiqued the first 10 pages of If Only. I sent them ahead so she could read it and take notes and let me know what she thought.

I’ve never done that before. I’ve had so many people read the story, people I know and people I don’t. Obviously, it’s been out in the public for a while now, so many people I’ll never talk to have read it.

But I have never had an agent sit down and critique the story the way I had today.

I wanted feedback.

I need feedback.

But after listening to her speak, I came to a few conclusions.

Listening to someone pick apart your heart is soul is hard.

Writing is subjective.

I’m a really sensitive person.

When I sat down and began listening to her, I was happy that she felt my writing was well done. She commented on how I tend to be wordy, which is true. I think my students would tell you I like to talk. I guess I just have a lot to say.

However, sometimes less is more, and I get that. I’ll work on that.

She wasn’t even really upset that the novel begins with a rape scene. It’s jarring. It’s harsh. It’s intense.

She liked that.

I was happy. Things sounded like they were going well.

And then she punched me in the gut.

Okay, not literally, but you get the point.

“I just don’t like Brittany. I didn’t connect with her at all. I didn’t care what happened to her.”

I have heard people tell me that Brittany is cold. She’s harsh. She has too many walls. She’s a bitch.

I have also heard people tell me she is just like them. Guarded. Careful. Sensitive. Damaged.

I don’t always know how to handle criticism. I don’t always know how to be politically correct.

You see, each character comes from a part of me; even the villains.

Next to Jade, Brittany is probably the closest to me, to my personality, and her issues are my own.

For as much as I adore Tommy, Brittany is me. She came from my days of solitude; from my years of figuring out who I was. She was with me through college; through the ups and downs of life. She saw me through a few significant losses and she came to life when I needed her voice.

I know people aren’t always going to love my characters or my story. I know romance isn’t for everyone and certainly, the things I put my characters through can test any reader.

But her critique hurt.

She also had issues with the meeting in the conference room, and that really bothered me.

The conference room is so important to their story. It broke my heart that she didn’t see that.

I went through a few stages after walking out. I decided I was done writing. I figured nobody would ever want to read another word of this series. I was a loser. A fraud. A hack.

But then, I sat down and became aware of the many authors walking around the conference all around me and I did what so many writers do.

I observed.

So many writers. So many ideas. So many opinions. So many dreams.

So many possibilities.

My stories aren’t for everyone. I know that. I write because I have a story to tell, and I want people to feel like they can relate to the struggles so many feel.

I have dealt with issues each and every time I bring up having a romantic heroine with HIV, and I deal with it because that’s simply not all she is, and if people can’t get past it that says more about them then it does Brittany.

I have dealt with people not liking the sexual assault angle and I have defended my choices more than once.

But this was different.

It was like my child had come from school crying because nobody liked her.

I became defensive. I wanted to list off all of the amazing qualities Brittany has and how many people love her.

I wanted to tell her about her strength and tenacity and heart. I wanted to show her Naomi and Tramp and the beautiful relationship Brittany has with Tommy.

But all I could do was thank her for her time, and leave.

It’s up to the writer to tell the story the best way they can.

I’m still learning. I’ll always be learning.

Today was hard, but it was important.

Tomorrow I’ll write again.

A special bond…

“Our Hero” is a story about Tommy, but not totally in the way you might think. It’s true; he’s in terrible trouble, but through his tragedy, I tried to show his life in a way that goes beyond the series. Beyond the Tommy you know.

He is one of those characters that I have multiple stories about. I know what he’s done every step of his life because he tells me. The more I write his story, the more his history becomes clear.

He is the reluctant hero, and I adore that.

It’s the strong silent types who sometimes doubt their worth that are the most fun for me to write. It’s fitting that he married the rock star, because it’s so far from anything he would have ever anticipated for himself.

From their pasts, one might think Jack is more suited to Brittany and Stephanie to Tommy, but that’s why this series is so fun.

One never knows what life has to offer.

One story that had an unexpected bonus, was bringing Desi into the fold. I knew, when I decided to introduce her to David, that she would have secrets.

Her health was the biggest, and I also knew that Tommy had been her doctor all along.

It was a minor connection, but it had major reach into the series.

Tommy was the doctor, but he was also David’s uncle.

Tommy had a wife who was attacked and because of that, he had special insight into what Desi was dealing with; and what her friends and family would struggle with.

Desi and Tommy were a new bond in the series, and I love it. She isn’t a child, but in some ways, having cancer at such a young age caused her to lose some of her innocence.

Tommy helped to give it a tiny bit back.

The following is a scene from “Our Hero” and it is a flashback to when they first met.

Enjoy!

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Desi sat in the conference room with her mom while they waited to meet the oncologist. She had been to a bunch of doctors, but finally got an appointment here with the best. 

“Sweetie? This is Dr. Williams,” Ian said as he walked into the conference room with Tommy.

Desi sat with Cassie and they were coloring.  Desi looked up and then looked back down. Her six-year-old fears trying to come out in tears.

“Hi Desi, I’m Dr. Tommy,” he said as he walked over and sat down next to her. “What are you drawing?”

“Why did you lie?” Desi asked. 

“Desi,” Cassie said, surprised. 

Tommy smiled at her. 

“It’s okay. When did I lie? We just met.”

Desi looked up through her long blonde hair and twirled a piece with her finger. He had a really nice face, but he was still the enemy.

“My dad said your name was Dr. Williams. You introduced yourself as Dr. Tommy. My dad isn’t a liar, so you must be. I was taught to never ever lie.”

“That’s true,” Tommy said. “My name is Thomas Brent Williams. My friends and family call me Tommy. Adults call me Dr. Williams.”

“Am I your friend?” Desi asked. 

“Well, we just met, but I hope so. You seem like a pretty cool person. Besides, I need some help with something,” he said as took out a small box.

Desi leaned her cheek on her hand. 

“What’s wrong?”

“My daughter is a few years younger than you and I promised her I would be able to help her with this jigsaw puzzle. I’m a little stuck and I heard you’re pretty good at them.”

“You did? I totally am. I do puzzles all the time,” Desi said with excitement. “Let me see what you have.”

Tommy put the small puzzle on the table and showed Desi. 

“This is pretty easy,” Desi said. “You just have the wrong piece here. If you move it over here, everything works out okay.”

Tommy smiled and nodded. 

“Thanks. I don’t know why I couldn’t figure that one out.”

Desi shrugged. 

“Sometimes people need help.”

“You know what? That’s kind of like what I do.”

Ian held Cassie’s hand as they watched their daughter come alive while talking to Tommy. 

“How? You’re a doctor, right? Aren’t you just going to give me bad medicine and make me feel yucky?”

“Nope. I have to look at the pieces first.”

Desi watched him. 

“What do you mean?”

“Each patient I have is like a puzzle. I have to look at the pieces and find the right way to put them together so they can work. Sometimes it takes me a little while to figure it out, but I always do.”

She looked at him and her big blue eyes filled with tears. 

“What if you can’t?”

He smiled. 

“Then I find a way to figure it out. Just like right now. You helped me figure out the right piece of the puzzle. There is always an answer, and I will never give up until I find it. Now I know you’ve had many days where you feel yucky, but I hope to help you so that doesn’t happen anymore. Sometimes I might pick up the wrong piece of the puzzle, but I’ll always keep looking until I find the right piece.” 

He took out a small trinket and handed it to her. 

“I’ll tell you what, why don’t you hold onto this piece for me.”

She took the piece and looked at it. 

“It’s not a real puzzle piece. It’s too small.”

“It’s a different kind of piece,” he said. “It’s a reminder piece for you to look at. Sometimes, the days you have to spend here will get a little scary. You might need a break from the nurses or doctors and sometimes, you might want me to leave you alone. All you need to do is pull out your special puzzle piece. It’s like a code for all of my friends. We will listen to you, Desi. You are the most important piece of this puzzle and I work for you, okay?”

“You’re going to put me back together? Like Humpty Dumpty?” she asked. 

He grinned. 

“Nope. You’re not broken and you don’t need to be put back together. You just have a few pieces that moved a little and we need to straighten them out. That’s all. It’s actually pretty simple.”

“Okay. I can handle that,” she said. 

Tommy smiled. 

“I know you can. Now I need you to pick out a room for the night while we figure out the kind of puzzle you are. I have a helper who can walk through the hall with you and help sniff out the best room.”

“I don’t need a helper. I don’t like to talk to people,” Desi said. 

Tommy nodded. 

“He won’t mind,” he said and called Enid. She came in a minute later and Desi grinned as Tramp trotted in. 

“This is Tramp. He really likes doing rounds with me, but if you take him to your room, he’ll do anything for a belly rub.”

Ian and Cassie laughed as Tramp rolled over for a belly rub. 

Desi laughed. 

“You’re right. I think we should be friends,” she said and Tommy stood up. 

“I agree. Come on, let’s go room shopping.”

“With you? I though the nurses did that,” Desi said and took his hand. 

“Nah, I like to make sure my friends are comfy here. It’s important to me.”

Desi beamed and they walked out, Tramp trotting ahead of them.
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