Sunday, October 15, 2017

I make magic. I write.

I am often asked why I write.

For me, the answer is quite simple. For me, writing is as essential to life as breathing. It is a time when I unload my mind, unleash my soul, and open my heart, all to exceptional emotional and intellectual satisfaction. It is the method by which I express my thoughts, my fears, my dreams. If I could not write, I would wither up and die.

Sounds dramatic, huh?  Obviously, you have never had the essentials for writing ripped from your life. I am not talking about pen and paper. I am talking about the ability to thread words together in a way that entertains, provokes, and inspires. I am referring to the art of crafting scintillating prose from confused musings, random thoughts, and vague facts. I am speaking of the facility to make writing sing though vivid imagery and intriguing stories.

For almost 20 years, I had that ability. Then I lost it. To a culprit called Multiple Sclerosis (MS). 

In 2002, I woke up and my legs refused to move. I tried to pull them into various positions until I could finally reach a phone a few feet away to call for help.  What followed is a bit of a blur, as I was subjected to some pretty horrendous tests and then left to deal with the soul-crushing diagnosis. MS.  Suddenly, a world that bordered on perfection came tumbling down. And I was lost. And I lost myself.

Here’s the thing. MS is a very fickle and cruel disease. Because it affects every single person differently, there is no way to predict its course. And similarly, there is no one definitive treatment and no cure.  As I wallowed in despair, reading all the depressing literature on the disease and struggling to find a treatment that would provide some relief, I stopped writing. I could not find the words.

I was a single mother with a toddler and no one could tell me what my future held. So I did what any self-respecting lawyer would do. I put my affairs in order and waited for the inevitable to happen. Death.

Except I didn’t die.  I was just exhausted.  Within five years I had had seven major medical procedures.  I had been doped to the gills and cut to the bone.  My life was a blur and I was barely hanging on.  I couldn’t write because I couldn’t hold a thought long enough to get it down on paper.

I prayed. A lot. I cursed God for inflicting this inhumane disease on me. Then I begged him for help. One day, I realized it was all up to me. I was the only one who could change the course of events. I needed to take back control of my life.

So I hauled my ass out of my little pity party and made some changes. I began to challenge my doctors and force decisions about treatment that I felt benefited me. I refused treatments that seemed more an excuse to bill my superior insurance than to treat my disease. I stood up and made sure everyone understood that I would no longer be a victim. I was a warrior and I intended to fight.

My mind cleared, my body began to feel strong. And one day, I sat down and started to write. Simple things at first. A poem. A brief monologue.  A scene for a story. I picked up a few editing jobs and reacquainted myself with the beauty of the written word. Then the ideas started to flow. 

Now when I sit down to write, I am continually grateful for the ability to make magic with words.  That’s why I write.  For the magic it creates in me and the magic it creates for others.  

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Friday, September 15, 2017

The story behind The Garage Dweller!

I recently wrote a guest blog for author Lisabet Sarai about how my novella, The Garage Dweller, was born. If you'd like to take a peek, click on the link below!

Friday, September 8, 2017

9/11: Remembering all who have been harmed by terrorism

Among the featured characters in my books are international law attorneys Sheikh Harun Ali and Marianne (Mari) Benson Ali. They fight for the victims of terrorism around the world, seeking compensation from terrorists, terrorist organizations, and those countries who shield or fund them.

As the story progresses through the Kinky Briefs series, Harun and Mari become targets.  A failed kidnap in the Hague against Mari and an assassination attempt on Harun in Dubai brings them back together in the United States.  Unfortunately, even in this country, the wrath of terrorists is far-reaching.  As we leave them in Kinky Briefs, Thrice, another apparent attempt on their lives has been made, this time very close to their home in Wisconsin.

Why have I included a story about terrorism and violence in a collection of short stories about love?  Because love should stop for no one, even terrorists. And if we deny ourselves the chance at love and instead live in fear, the terrorists win.

 As Americans, on September 11, 2001, our lives changed forever. We watched in horror as two planes struck and destroyed the Twin Towers, and as another crashed into the Pentagon. We later learned that as passengers struggled with terrorists, another plane went down and exploded in a Pennsylvania field.

On that day, thousands of Americans died because others despised our way of life.  And we vowed, “Never again.”  At a time when our country faces an increasing threat from rogue nations and terrorists around the world, those words are even more meaningful.

North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and unknown other rogue nations are racing to build nuclear weapons.  Some plan to use those weapons, others plan to use those weapons as a defensive threat, and still others will probably sell them to the highest bidder—terrorists.  Unfortunately, despite an initial aggressive attack on terrorism, in America, in recent years, we became lax and now we are paying for it. Terrorists are regrouping and seem to be gathering strength, as witnessed by an increasing number of attacks around the world. The cancer has spread and become ingrained in almost every country as terrorists recruit the misguided and the disaffected.

Clearly, it is up to all nations to remain vigilant. In America, that begins and ends with keeping  the memory of the Sept. 11 victims, and the memory of those who have died defending our freedoms, alive.  We must fight terrorism at every opportunity to ensure that “never again” has real meaning.

God Bless America, and God Bless every nation and every person who has been touched by terrorism.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Finding Normal: PTSD in Romance Fiction

One of the many joys of writing fiction is that I am permitted to craft characters and plots that point to what I see as societal problems.

For example, I am a big supporter of veteran’s rights. When someone in the U.S. enlists in the military they enter into a formal contract. The soldier agrees to serve this country to the best of their ability and the government, in turn, promises them certain benefits. Though some may disagree, I believe our government has failed keep its end of the bargain. One needs to look no further than the troubled veteran’s health system.

War is hell, and those who engage in combat often do not escape unscathed—physically or mentally. For example, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common problem, one that often goes untreated because returning soldiers are either undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, offered improper treatment, or denied access to treatment. As a result, there are significant incidents of suicide, substance abuse, domestic abuse, and criminal behavior. The U.S. Department for Veterans Affairs says the incidence of PTSD varies among “service era,” but offers the following statistics:

  • Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Between 11 and 20 out of every 100 veterans (11-20 percent) have PTSD in a given year.
  • The Gulf War (Desert Storm). Approximately 12 out of every 100 veterans or 12 percent have PTSD in a given year.
  • The Vietnam War. An estimated 15 out of every 100 veterans (15 percent) have been diagnosed with PTSD and 30 out of every 100 have had PTSD in their lifetime.

When a soldier returns to civilian life, he or she needs to find a new normal. I believe it is part of our contract to help them find it. This is America’s shame and way too many people want to bury it under a bushel.

That’s why I wrote, “Finding Normal,” the third chapter in Kinky Briefs, Thrice. In the story, U.S. Army veteran Alex Thomas struggles with finding his new normal after returning home from Afghanistan. He has faced the ravages of war and escaped the treacherous grip of death, yet he is scarred by what he has seen and experienced. Enter Judge Clarissa West, the owner of a Hippotherapy ranch and a St. Louis criminal court judge. She needs a ranch manager--“a cowboy with an M.B.A.”--to help her manage her legacy. As Clarissa helps Alex deal with his PTSD, he helps her save her ranch. Not surprisingly, what began as compassion leads to love.

By now, a few of you may be saying, “What a downer. You have no business putting that in romantic fiction.” I beg to disagree. Love is never perfect, and true love is about more than simple companionship and possibly, sexual heat. True love is about embracing each other’s differences, as well as faults and problems, and finding a constructive way to address or adjust to them. It begins with acceptance and it ends with commitment. And quite simply, trusting that someone else has your back.

In the end, I believe in the healing power of love. I believe that with love, most can find their new normal.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Are people with disabilities incapable of romance?

I write about lawyers in love, with a dash of kink, and in my next book, Kinky Briefs, Thrice, I feature a lawyer newly diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis—a disease I was diagnosed with in 2002.

Katia “Munk” Hrulata is a bright, spunky Chicago lawyer who suffered a severe MS attack (we call them exacerbations) three months prior.  The attack took out her legs and she was relegated to a wheelchair.  The story revolves around her need to adjust her life to a new reality.  Not only is she suddenly confronted with accessibility issues many MSers face on a daily basis, she also questions the impact MS will have on her relationships, in particular with the man she loves.

I am pretty proud of this story, primarily because it takes on some common stereotypes about people with MS:

That people with MS are incapable of leading productive lives.  Every disability is different and it impacts people in different ways.  That is particularly true of MS.  Some MSers may eventually become so disabled that they cannot work, some may not.  But that does not necessarily make those who cannot work any less productive.  It just switches their focus and their priorities. There is also a related assumption that when people are diagnosed with MS, their life is over.  They should just give up.  When I was diagnosed, I was appalled at how many family members suggested that I sell my home and start searching for a nursing home! (I fooled them all. I merely hired a contractor to make my home more accessible.) Admittedly, some MSers have made a conscious choice to give up, but for many others, MS provides the motivation to fight harder for what they want and need out of life.

That people with MS cannot work.  Here’s the thing—there are many people out there with MS who hide in the shadows, but have flourishing careers, as lawyers, doctors, teachers, corporate CEOs, politicians, and a myriad of other occupations. And they hide their disability for a reason. When I disclosed that I had MS, my clients and friends hastily abandoned ship.  MS is not only a cruel and fickle disease, it is one that frightens those who do not understand it.  But here’s the thing: Managing my MS has forced me to focus on what’s important, such as family and a lifelong desire to write books.  And I credit MS with my productivity:  This year alone, I have written five books—all due out by the end of 2017—and am working on another. I have also ghostwritten four books for professionals.  I needed to prove that I could write books, despite MS, and I have.  Many other MSers are accomplishing their own dreams as well. People make a lot of assumptions about what people with MS and other disabilities are capable of, and most of those assumptions are wrong.

That people with MS can’t have normal, loving relationships.  I must admit, the first time someone said this to me, it really burned my ass.  First of all, let’s get the word “normal” off the table. What’s normal to some is not necessarily normal to others.  There are many ways to engage in and experience love.  A disability may require some adjustment to the physical aspects of love, but to strip a person of their sexuality because of that disability is cruel and unconscionable.  Second of all, yes, people with disabilities have sex.  Again, adjustments may have to be made to accommodate “the act,” but it is certainly not impossible. Sure, neurological disorders—such as MS--and drugs used in their treatment may impact sexual desire and sensation, but that is on a case-by-case basis.  It is not a universal truth. Third, even people with MS actively seek partners/companions. We just handle it differently.  I tend to be upfront about my diagnosis simply because I don’t want to start falling in love and have someone bolt when I disclose that I have a chronic illness. And despite some very negative experiences, I have never considered giving up my search for “the one” or disclosing my MS.

That people with disabilities do not engage in kinky sex.  In researching my books, I have visited numerous discussion groups.  The first thing I discovered was that there are many subgroups devoted not only to people with MS, but people with other disabilities. There are also many articles about the subject on the Internet. If you are interested, take the time to check them out. Again, it appears engaging in kink is more about accommodating MS and other disabilities, rather than abandoning specific desires/needs.

While I wanted my story about Munk to fairly represent the MS experience, in the end, it is intended to be a love story. I have no doubt people with disabilities not only enjoy romance novels, they also embrace and enjoy romance!