Patrick sighed. Blame it on the alcohol. “Have you never done anything that you regretted, Frannie?” he asked. “Something for which you didn’t deserve forgiveness, but wished for it anyway? Not to ease the guilt you feel, because trust me, the guilt is a demon that won’t leave me alone. The forgiveness is so you know that the person giving it has gotten past what you did.”
Frannie focused on the intensity in his eyes, giving what he’d said some thought. She almost wished she could say she had done something that needed forgiving. The sad truth was that because she’d been gravely ill and survived, she’d taken care to stay safe and do what was expected of her. Any time she’d ventured to do anything out of character or something that involved taking risks, she’d regretted it, including the one time she’d kissed a stranger in a bar. That was something she regretted—that and the fact she’d wasted the years since her illness playing it safe. In both instances, the only person she had to blame was herself. She didn’t want to be afraid to live her life, but fear had been her constant companion for many, many years.
As an author, I’m often asked what inspires my writing. That’s such a hard question to answer. So many things inspire my writing. I guess the better question might be what influences my writing. I always want to create characters who have big issues in their lives that they need to overcome so that they can live a full live. I think someone once said something like, “Life is messy and no one gets out alive.” I think that’s so true. Stuff happens. The question is, how are you going to deal with it?
In the passage above, the two main characters of my latest novel, UNFORGETTABLE, are having it out over a kiss they shared years before. The situation? Both were in a bar, getting drunk; Frannie because her sister had just died, and Patrick because he was dealing with his wife’s terminal illness. Two things influenced this scene.
First, with Patrick, I wanted to show that people make mistakes. Terrible mistakes. In this book, Patrick is making every attempt to put the past behind him, going forward as a sober father, friend, and professional. I wanted to show that people are not the sum of their past deeds. With hard work and determination, I believe that people can make real, meaningful change in their lives. It helps if they have the support of people around them who are willing to give them a second, third or fourth chance. But even without that support, I think people can still prove everyone wrong and make those changes that will pave the way to a better life for them.
So, getting that message out there is what influenced the creation of Patrick, a character who had a checkered past, but who’s looking for redemption. On the surface, you can look at Patrick and say, there’s nothing redeemable about a drunk who makes poor choices. However, I firmly believe that things are not always as they appear. Look beyond the surface and find the underlying reasons why people make the choices they do. Things are rarely as they seem.
There are reasons why Patrick drank. He denied some core truths about himself, and speaking from experience, denying one’s core truths always leads to trouble. I denied that I was a writer. This led to my falling into a deep depression. To get better, I had to start writing again. For Patrick, he had to find the root causes that led him to drink. By acknowledging these things, he’s able to stop drinking and create a new life for himself, one day at a time. But Frannie comes roaring into to town reminding him of that person he used to be. Will he fall back into people’s old expectations of bad behavior for him or will he prove to Frannie that’s he’s a different man? Read the book and find out!
The second influence for this scene has to do with Frannie, my heroine, who has a past as well. One that might seem a strange choice on my part. As a child, Frannie battled a serious illness. This was based on my own experience. While I didn’t have a terminal illness, I was very sickly as a child. I was born early with lung problems. I had severe asthma and allergies as well as kidney problems. Up until I was seven, I was in and out of the hospital, and I spent a lot of time in doctor’s offices. Hardly a week went by that I didn’t see dear Dr. Kenneth Lynch. What an incredible man. My mother was very careful with me, and that in turn caused me to be cautious and fearful—of everything. I spent a lot of time indoors because I was allergic to most everything outside. As a result, I wasn’t comfortable around people. I didn’t make friends easily. I was super naïve about everything and way too trusting.
“She’d taken care to stay safe and do what was expected of her. Any time she’d ventured to do anything out of character or something that involved taking risks, she’d regretted it.”
This passage characterized my life growing up and carried over into adulthood. I became accustomed to being alone because staying inside away from everyone but family kept me safe. Like Frannie, it seemed like anytime I ventured to do anything that involved taking a risk (and trust me, sometimes just venturing out was risky), I wound up regretting it. Of course, I was unhappy being alone so much, but at the same time, being alone was comfortable.
Another thing that growing up sick and cautious did was give me a fatalistic outlook on life. Like Frannie, I didn’t believe I’d live to be old. I never wanted to marry or have children. I wanted education and a career. I used to love pretending I had an office with a desk! But I did get married to an amazing, wonderful man. And I did have one child, who is so much like his father. He, too, is amazing and wonderful. Even though he doesn’t look like me, I like to think he gets his strength and fabulosity from me 🙂
Still, I had a deep feeling that I wouldn’t live to be old, until, like Frannie, something happened to show me that I was wrong. A few years ago, during that time that I wasn’t writing, I got out my laptop and decided to go to the library and try to write. Before I got out of my neighborhood, I was in a horrendous car crash. I pulled out onto a four-lane highway right in front of a car I didn’t see coming. I was hit in the driver’s door of my car. My head broke the window of the driver’s side door. I was knocked unconscious. I should have died. That’s what I thought at the time. I should have died. But I didn’t.
Because I was wrong about not living to be old.
A wonderful therapist helped me to see that. And Paul Selig, Director of the Creative Writing Program and channeler confirmed by telling me, “You’re here. I see you. I see you.” And now, I have no doubts. I have a full, wonderful life with a husband, a child, family, friends, puppies and a career that I love.
I did get that education and enjoyed a number of offices with desks. But the desk I use now, as I write this post, sits in an office I’ve made inside my home. It has faded pink wallpaper that was installed sometime around the turn of the century—the 20th Century. There’s a bay window in front of me with 150-year-old wavy glass. Outside stands a strong, old magnolia tree and a view of the mountains just beyond. I’m blessed with the here and now. I do myself, and everyone around me, a disservice if I don’t live every blessed day to the fullest. I can promise you, that’s what I intend to do. If someone reading my books is encouraged to do the same? Well, that just means I must be living right.
Excerpts from Unforgettable, An Angel Ridge Novel
Bell Bridge Books Available October 2012 © Deborah Grace Staley
A Home for Christmas
What the Heart Wants
I’ll Be There
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