Friday, January 3, 2014

Inspiration, the Character of Megan, and Thoughts for the New Year

If you've landed here, you've read The Awakening, so first I'll say thank you. Second, a quick update: the next-to-last rewrite of Book II in The Awakening series, The Unbelievers, is halfway done. When I finish, I'll send it to a handful of writers/readers for comments, then do a last edit and publish it. Look for it in spring of this year. Also, a paper version of The Awakening is scheduled to be released in late January, so if you have friends who might like to read it but don't have an e-reader, I hope you'll pass on the word. Both events will be announced on the Facebook page for the book.

During the holiday season, I attended a party where a friend of the host had just read The Awakening. She asked about the character Megan and whether I'd known anyone like her in real life. Megan was inspired by my niece Emma, to whom I dedicated The Awakening. Like Megan, Emma was diagnosed at a young age with a brain tumor.

I included Megan as a character for a few reasons, one of which was very practical. Because it's meant to be unclear whether the origin of Tara's pregnancy relates to Christian theology, I wanted her to have a strong, practical reason for deferring sex rather than a religious one. Given that she's 21 and in a long-term relationship with a young man she plans to marry, I felt that reason needed to be especially persuasive. So I created Tara as a pre-med student and the oldest of five children. She's ambitious and, because of Megan’s illness, she has even more responsibility for her siblings than most eldest children do. She gains real insight into what raising children requires and she wants to be sure she's ready.

I borrowed a bit from Emma for another reason -- she inspires me. From before she could walk, Emma loved books. When she was ten, I gave her the Narnia Chronicles, which I’d so loved at her age. When she was eleven, she read me adventure stories she’d written in her journal. I have two brothers, one who had six children, and one who had one – Emma. I felt thrilled that one of my brothers’ children enjoyed writing as much as I do.

Unfortunately, unlike her cousins, Emma won’t reach adulthood, just as Megan didn't. Emma would have been twenty-one this year, but she died at age eleven, a few months after she shared those stories with me. She started her first day of junior high, but never high school; celebrated her first communion but never her graduation. She did not get to grow up, fall in love, start a career. While Father Saur is not modeled after any real priest or pastor I know, some of his words at Megan's wake are borrowed from a talk a priest at my niece's wake gave. I cried at the words.

Emma took great joy in life despite being treated for her tumor for almost half of it. She met a Minnesota Viking football player and traveled to the Minnesota Twins spring training through Make-a-Wish. She had a blast playing with cousins on both sides of the family. She loved her parents, her kitten, and the Beanie Babies my mom bought her. She always took the tags off them so they’d look more like real animals.

When I have a challenging day – the dishwasher leaks, or Amazon tells me I have zero book sales for a week, or a client in my law practice is unhappy with me – I often think of Emma. Emma would have loved to grow up and have the chance to deal with these kinds of issues. Emma also reminds me to be present and enjoy the wonderful parts of life. A glass of wine with friends, a family dinner, a professional accomplishment. A quiet walk along Lake Michigan or a less quiet one on State Street to see the holiday windows and lights. Each moment is a gift, an instant that not everyone is lucky enough to experience.

So I am grateful to Emma, for being an amazing, wonderful part of my life. And, as I said in the dedication, I wish she were still here.

If you'd like to share thoughts about anyone in your life, The Awakening, or the coming year, feel free to comment below or e-mail me at  To join my e-mail newsletter list and be notified first thing of new releases, click here.

Best wishes for a safe and happy new year.