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31 Days of Creepy: Chatting with Author Will Swardstrom

71MNzLaFHIL._UX250_Continuing my conversations with author friends about what creeps them out, on this scariest day of the year…

Meet Will Swardstrom, who’s typically a SF writer, but has dipped into the horror realm with the truly creepy Ant Apocalypse and Z Ball.

Book, movie, or TV show… what’s the one moment that absolutely scared the living bejeebers out of you?

When I was in fourth grade, I was invited to a sleepover at a friend’s house. I typically watched things like Star Wars and Eddie Murphy movies as I recall, so when we watched Children of the Corn, it was way out of left field. Being in an unfamiliar house definitely played into it, I think, but that movie…shudders…I still get creeped out thinking about it. What a scary, scary movie.

Tell the truth: would waking up to find a giant bug crawling on your face make you scream? Or would you attempt to make a pet out of it?

I might actually be too scared to even scream at first. I might be paralyzed by fear and revulsion, but the first move would be to bat it away from me and my face. All those legs…now dog-sized? I can’t even. Arachnophobia really got me as a kid, and of course my story Ant Apocalypse is my first attempt at horror. NO THANKS.

For you, who’s the Master of Horror?

For books, I’ll go with Stephen King. Can’t go wrong there. I really am a wuss when it comes to reading or watching much horror, but that dude is such a great storyteller I can get into any of his books no matter what. That said…the two books that scared me the most: the first is Dragon Tears by Dean Koontz. This was one of his books from the early 90’s where he was still going full-on horror/suspense with his books. In the latter years here he’s toned it down and horror is more of a character to his stories, not the entire setting.

But the one book that scared me the most? Hot Zone by Richard Preston (subtitle: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus). This was in the 90’s when Ebola first became a household name and I read that book. The true nature of it truly frightened me.

What’s the scariest scene you’ve ever written?

The kitten turns into a zombie scene in my book Ant Apocalypse. For sure. I hated writing it (I’m a cat person, honestly), so I forced myself to do it. Listening to it as an audiobook scared the crap out of me.

Zombie Apocalypse. What’s your weapon of choice?

Can I go with Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility? How about Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet? I would rather just NOT deal with the zombies if I had a choice. However, if I *had* to choose, it would be something that I could use again and again, like a sword or something along those lines where I wouldn’t have to worry about ammunition.

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31 Days of Creepy – Chatting with Author Thomas Robins

61rlT7c956L._UX250_It’s Halloween, horror fans! Scariest day of the year, so I’ve been chatting with a couple of author friends about what creeps them out.

First up: Thomas Robins, author of the popular SF novel Desperate to Escape and the new series The Dragons of Edgewick.

Book, movie, or TV show… what’s the one moment that absolutely scared the living bejeebers out of you?

Alice in Wonderland. In elementary school, our whole school went to an auditorium to watch this film. It terrified me, but I was in the middle of a couple of hundred kids so I couldn’t leave or bury my head in my parents’ arms. I just sat there, horrified for Alice and forced to keep watching. 

Tell the truth: would waking up to find a giant bug crawling on your face make you scream? Or would you attempt to make a pet out of it?

I’d scream like a madman, but probably not because it’s a spider. Things that suddenly wake me up send me into a weird yelling gibberish fit for a minute before I actually wake up. Happens if a fire alarm goes off or a loud clack of thunder comes by. I call it my personal blue screen (from when PCs crash).

For you, who’s the Master of Horror?

Stephen King by reputation. I don’t read or watch straight horror.

What’s the scariest scene you’ve ever written?

I’m in the middle of writing my scariest scene, which is likely to be over the top since I don’t read horror. It’s part of a piece I’m writing for The Shapeshifter Chronicles.

Zombie Apocalypse. What’s your weapon of choice?

A paper map. If I can get my family a few hundred miles to my in-laws’ farm, we’d be able to hole up in safety for years.

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Kimberly Readnour – For My Daughter

visions cover webIndy author Kim Readnour is making her first foray into publishing this month with Visions: The Mystical Encounter Series Book 1 – a book she wrote for a very special reader, one who’s also her most devoted fan!

When I discovered that the main theme of this blog was family, my daughter immediately came to mind since my entire writing career could be attributed to her. In the back of my mind, the thought of writing a novel was always present, but I never followed through. That changed when my daughter reached her teenage years. With her passion for reading, we often read the same books. One day, after completing a particular book that neither one of us liked, something sparked inside me. The desire to write her stories took precedence over everything else. That began my journey for writing.

After completing some mediocre novellas, I wanted my next story to be meaningful. With my daughter’s varied interests, I wanted to write something different. Something that neither one of us had previously read. My goal seemed impossible, but I was determined to try. After pondering what to write, with unproductive results, frustration set in. I remembered lying down that evening, thinking I needed to relax. If I relaxed, the story might present itself. The next morning I grabbed my laptop and began writing the story.

What started out as a standalone novel easily transformed into a trilogy. After I finished the first book, it was nerve-wracking allowing my daughter to read it. When she finished the story and told me she loved it, the sensation swarming through me was enough justification. Pleased that the story made her happy, I worked on the second section.

With my daughter as the target audience, I never had inspirations of publishing. She, of course, had other ideas and tried convincing me to get the first book published. After sending it to a few literary agents and being politely turned away, I stalled on finishing the series. Their rejection derailed my confidence, slowing down my writing. After a few months passed, I reread the manuscript and became embarrassed. What I had submitted was more like a rough draft than a polished version. Boy, I had a lot to learn.

After some major revisions and the “save” button pressed, the manuscript sat untouched. In the meantime, my daughter started pressing for me to self-publish. Her enthusiasm for my book was encouraging, but I didn’t know if I was ready to take on that challenge. Four years, I sat on the manuscript. Four years, she kept encouraging me, insisting on a wider audience. Finally, I heeded her advice and recruited a friend of mine to read over the manuscript for a second opinion. When she finished, she not only demanded that the series be completed, but also demanded that it be published. That was my final push.

Now, after professional editing, I feel the book is ready for a wider audience. My hope is that other readers enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed writing it. Whether or not any copies sell, just by having it published, I deem it a success. The entire journey was for my daughter. From writing an unusual story, to following her advice, everything was for her benefit. Knowing how proud I made her by pursuing this, makes me proud. Not to mention having the book I wrote solely for her eyes out in the world.

You can find Kim’s author page on Facebook right here.

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Mikey Chlanda – My Firefighter Family

What better day than Thanksgiving to feature a guest post from indy author Mikey Chlanda talking about true American heroes?  Mike’s career as a first responder spanned 29 years, and he’s got some terrific stories to tell! His new book The Last Noble Profession: 29 Years of Kicking Down Doors and Helping People will be available in mid-December.

Backdraft was an awful movie from a firefighter’s perspective, but one line rings true. It’s towards the end, where the lieutenant is hanging onto the firefighter that was the arsonist by his hand.  The arsonist was yelling at the lieutenant to let him go, and the lieutenant replied, “If you go, we go.”

We have to have that trust in our brothers and sisters. That no matter what happens to us, our firefighter family will get us out.

4108Y2cpKsL__AA160_If you ever see a firefighter’s death on TV, you’ll see some firefighters carrying the body out. Those are his fellow brothers on the compnay he ran on. It is an unbroken tradition on the fire department that in the case of a line-of-duty death, his brothers from his fire company will bring him out. It is the saddest thing in the world, knowing that you could not save your brother.

We spend a lot of time with our brother firefighters.  We sleep, eat, and spend downtime with each other just [bullcrap]ting with each other in the firehouse. Citizens see us out in public buying food for dinner. Or washing the rigs outside the firehouse. The public perception is that we just hang around the firehouse, waiting for a run.

Filmmakers and journalists can’t go where we work. We have 47 pounds of gear on, carrying twenty pounds of tools, plus dragging a couple-hundred-pound, water-filled hose. Then we go to work in a 200 to 400 degree environment in close to zero visibility. Things often go wrong and we depend on each other at fires to save each other’s lives. We trust each so much that we go into burning buildings with our brothers voluntarily, knowing that if a beam falls on us, they will drag us out or stay with us and die trying.

That trust is not easy to build up. We have to know that guy is going to be there to pull us out. You do not want to have any doubts about the person you are going into the fire with.

We’re pretty hard on new firefighters. We have to know if we can break you. Yeah, you passed the test. You took the class.  But are you going to be there for me when we’re in a fire, each lugging over two hundred pounds of assorted gear, tools, and fire hose, iin 400 degree plus temperatures, five minutes left on our air supply, and the roof collapses? Can you pull me out? Can you?

If we can break you with words or practical jokes, then the fire is definitely going to break you. And we can’t count on you. Trust me, we’re going to find your buttons pretty quickly and we are going to keep pushing them to see how you react.

A fire department is just like a family. More specifically, the fire station you run out of is your extended family, and the crew you run with on your rig is your nuclear family. We always joke about the fire department being a dysfunctional family but it really isn’t. A real family may have rifts that never heal, but a fire company can’t — and doesn’t — function like that.

Don’t get me wrong — we have hellacious, knock-down, drag-out fights between ourselves. But at the end of the day, the only question left is, “Can you pull me out?”

My first fire department was the Antioch College Fire Department, nicknamed “Maples” after the dorm we lived in that was next to the fire garage. For about three years, eight of us lived there — most of us year-round. We were hard on newcomers, but once you were accepted, you were family. Thirty-five years later, we’re still very close.

The feeling grows over the years. Our shared experiences, the runs we’ve been on, and the joys and sorrows of life that we’ve known together create a deep bond. We’ve seen each other at our best, hugged each other at our worst, and know we will always be there for our brothers.

The best feeling in life is sitting on the back of the rig with a couple brothers after a righteous stop on a fire. We’re peeling off equipment, hacking the smoke out of our lungs that snuck in past our masks, blowing black chunks of God knows what out of our noses. We’re sucking oxygen out of a tank, struggling to get our breath back, thinking over the close calls. No words are spoken, but none are needed.

As Kris Kristofferson said, we may not have always beaten the devil, but we sure drank a lot of his beer for free. That, my friends, is the closest feeling in the world.

If you’d like to pre-order a copy of The Last Noble Profession: 29 Years of Kicking Down Doors and Helping People at a $10 discount, pop on over to GoFundMe right now!  You can check out Mikey’s other books at his Amazon author page, here.

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Book Tour – Vanessa Wester, Author of the “Evolution” Trilogy

Vanessa Wester - Author Picture 3As readers of Vanessa Wester’s EVOLUTION trilogy know, reaching the end of the trilogy doesn’t necessarily mean the story is finished. Vanessa is continuing her popular saga with the brand-new prequel novella EMILY, which is now available for pre-order at Amazon.  With the help of e-mail and book tour host MY BOOK FAIRY, I “sat down” with Vanessa to chat about her life and her thoughts about the trilogy.

First, an introduction to the story:

Steven Thorn has no trouble settling in at university. He is confident, hardworking and intelligent. When Caitlin Chance catches him off guard he is bemused by the instant attraction, and the more he gets to know her, the more he likes. Yet, Steven has a secret past that is destined to reveal itself, and he is soon to become a stranger to everyone. The wheels are set in motion for his radical upheaval. But first love is a powerful thing, and the connection forged between Caitlin and Steven is not easily broken. The impossible is only the beginning…

Take us back to the very beginnings of your trilogy! What came to mind first — a character, a scene, the desire to do something in that genre?

When I first started HYBRID I wrote a scene that is no longer in the book. I think I was inspired by Grease and I liked the idea of a beach romance that was then renewed whilst at university. Of course, I added a sinister twist. My main character, Steven, was attacked whilst on the beach and awoke in a cave, disoriented and alone. It was pretty cool, but after many rewrites I took the scene out! I changed the beginning of my novel so many times. So, I’d have to say the scene came first… and my character was definitely inspired by a mixture of John Travolta and David Boreanaz!

You published all 3 parts of the trilogy within a few days, but I’m guessing the book took shape over the course of several months (or more). Once that world began to take shape in your mind, did the writing come quickly, or did it tease you along, a little bit at a time?

Amazon allows you to update your books, so the publication date corresponds to the date they were all updated. I don’t think Amazon allow you to change the publication date anymore, but I wanted to make sure that readers knew it was a new version. I would say Hybrid and Complications were written alongside each other. The first 10% of Complications was originally in Hybrid, but I did a complete rewrite of the end of Hybrid when I saw it needed more. This is why Complications was finished within 6 months of publishing Hybrid in March, 2012. Return took a year from beginning to end. I have to admit that I am terrible… I could easily rewrite the entire trilogy again, but I have to let go and move on to new projects!

The editing process for my books works alongside the writing of new books. For example, I have already written about 30,000 of my new book, whilst I was editing and working on my new novella, Emily, and editing another novel (which might never get published). Sometimes, I am in the mood for one story and other times I write just for escapism and begin a story which I don’t continue. I have many novels that night never go anywhere!

Hybrid CoverJudging by all the 5-star reviews, your readers have a lot of passion for the story. What do you think it is about the characters and/or the storyline that has them so enthralled?

I think I have the answer to this… life! My characters and situations are real (or as real as they can be within a paranormal world). In fact, I read somewhere that people find it easier to relate to situations in a paranormal world, because they address the many issues we face today without thrusting it in your face. For example, within my trilogy I include instances of first love, lust, bereavement, suicide, murder, pregnancy, infidelity, unrequited love, thrill-seeking, coercion, paranoia… I think I covered a lot of bases!

You’ve had a very interesting career path — first in accountancy, then teaching, and now you’re hip-deep in indie publishing. What would you tell your students about learning to follow your dreams?

Everything is possible… you can do anything you want if you are prepared to work hard for it. Life has a way of shaping your path a lot, and it’s up to you to take hold of it and make it your own. It’s very easy to say, “That’s too hard” or “I can’t.” If you ask for help and share your thoughts with people around you it might surprise you. If I had never been brave enough to share my first romantic novel (as yet unpublished) with friends I would never have written the trilogy. Also, if I had not got pregnant again I would now be working as a secondary school teacher. Fate has a way of guiding your destiny and you just have to be brave enough to embrace the change. Yet, even when you follow one path, you can always take another one along the way!

On behalf of your readers, I have to ask: what’s next? Will you continue with the world and characters of the Evolution trilogy, or move on to something new?

I do have another trilogy linked to this first trilogy in mind, but at the moment it is on hold. I am currently working on a historical novel based on the life of my great, great grandparents. Both of English descent, they met in Jamaica, married and then moved to Gibraltar, where I was born. Victorian times are fascinating and I am having an amazing ride (if very daunting at times).

MBF Tour HostAbout Vanessa Wester

When Vanessa decided to start writing she found an outlet for her imagination. It’s the best way she can think of to express herself and escape from everyday life. She has a lot of eggs in her basket, since she’s a qualified Secondary School Mathematics Teacher, ASA Swimming Teacher, has a degree in Accounting & Law, has been a competitive swimmer and enjoys art, singing and drama. In addition, she is bilingual in English and Spanish, and speaks some Dutch, since she was born and raised in Gibraltar and has lived in Rotterdam. However, since her son was born, she has been a stay at home mum who gives up a lot of her time towards voluntary organizations.

Vanessa’s Blog
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Ree Mariani – Family Ties

Ree Mariani is new to e-publishing – her first novel, City of the Seer, went “live” on Amazon just a few days ago. In the midst of all her debut-novel activities, she took a few minutes to share her thoughts about family and storytelling.

516Z8SOpjAL__AA160_Everyone has heard the saying, “Blood is thicker than water.” But what does it really mean? The modern interpretation is that family ties are more important than any other. But what if you don’t have any common ‘blood’ with your family?

In 1988 I was adopted. My immigrant Polish-Argentinian mother and my Italian-American father had tried for years to have a child with no luck. Then within six weeks they got not one, but two baby girls. My parents tell me that growing up everyone assumed my sister and I were twins – however, as we got older it became clear that my sister had a serious disability.

I remember the first time someone told me I looked like my mother. Her kinky brown curls and gray eyes were nothing like my straight, strawberry blonde hair and avocado colored eyes. I didn’t look like my father, either, not with his reddened skin and his coal-colored hair. It should have been obvious that I didn’t belong – however, my family never made me feel that way and I think that is something I’ve carried on in my writing.

Family is not blood. Family is not the people with whom you share genetic similarities. Family is the people who support and love you, who will put up with you even when you don’t deserve it. In my premier novel City of the Seer, Braelyn makes her own family. She finds people who will support her no matter how poorly she behaves or how impulsive she is.

Blood is not thicker than water. Love is thicker than everything, and family is love.

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Interviewing… me!

Writing, the theme of family, inspiration, Stephen King, and my time on the U.S.S. Enterprise… blogger Judy Goodwin has interviewed yours truly!  Here’s a brief intro:

1. What first drew you to writing?

DITW smallThe short answer would be… love.  Thanks to my dad, I’m a TV baby, and I found myself wanting more stories about my favorite TV characters, so I started to write them myself.  This being back in the pre-computer days, I did all my writing in spiral notebooks with a ballpoint pen, and sometimes I churned out so much material that it caused my hand to cramp and burn — all for something that had a readership of one.  (Me.)  Years later I found out that what I was doing was called fanfiction, and that thousands of other people did it too.  What a revelation!  I’d always thought I was the only one.

You can find the rest of the interview at Judy’s blog.  Take a look!

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Jessica Randall – Paying Homage to “My People”

Jessica L. Randall is the mother of 5 — so she’s certainly familiar with the challenges and inspiration that go along with FAMILY!  She began e-publishing earlier this year and has two popular novels under her belt already.  She’s another KBoarder I’m looking forward to getting better acquainted with… especially getting some inside info about her husband’s famous peanut butter and chocolate chip Monster Cookies!

71U1ZxUr9rL__UX250_I was raised along with nine siblings right next door to my grandparents, so I think it’s safe to say that those people had a large part in shaping who I am. They have definitely colored my writing, and even set me to the task in the first place. Several years ago I began pondering what made my family and my upbringing unique. As I thought about the mannerisms and the crazy anecdotes, I realized that “my people,” as I used to call them, needed to be immortalized. I was sure they’d make the perfect characters. However I didn’t have enough faith in my abilities until I saw people I knew writing and self-publishing books. I was also encouraged by the idea that if I was proud of what I did, I could send it out into the world rather than leave it sitting in a neglected file on my computer.

41+vLtB4ttL__AA160_For my first book, Goldenhood, I chose to write a twisted tale. It was helpful to have the rough outline of a story to work with as I learned. I quickly found that family members not only inspired my characters, but that family became a theme of the book. Elise loves healing others using herbs as did many generations of Roux women before her, but she also finds herself drawn to the dark magic that claimed her grandmother. She has to learn which parts of her inheritance she should develop and be proud of, and which elements are meant for her to struggle with and conquer. There are also a couple of characters that have to learn to accept a new role in their family when tragedy strikes. The ties of family are strong, and often demanding. Their loyalty is what makes their struggle such a difficult one.

519g7fxIzYL__AA160_After I had successfully written one book, I wanted to challenge myself to create a new story. The Obituary Society is that “heart story” I’d wanted to write for years. The book was a way for me to pay homage to the people that I love, and even tell some of their stories. One reviewer said, “There is so much subtle love written in this book — love for small towns, love (and acceptance) for the older community, love for the simpler way of life.” When I read that I was thrilled that someone understood. The love that came through was for my family, my grandparents, and the homes I loved.

The theme of family came out in this book as well, as Lila’s great desire is to feel she belongs somewhere and to learn as much as she can about her family, even though there are some family secrets that are hidden for a reason.

Right now I’m in the midst of a book that is a sequel of sorts to The Obituary Society. It’s about two sisters and love and good food in a small town, those themes that I believe will show up in my work again and again.

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Kyoko M – True Companions

Kyoko M is another of the terrific authors I’ve been getting acquainted with via KBoards.  She’s the author of the urban fantasy series The Black Parade – a continuing story that revolves around a “made” family.  Here, she offers some background on her series and the idea of true companions.

61oc8puX9cL__UX250_Saffron: Everybody plays each other. That’s all anybody ever does. We play parts.

Mal: You got all kinds a learnin’ and you made me look the fool without even trying, and yet here I am with a gun to your head. That’s ’cause I’ve got people with me, people who trust each other, who do for each other, and ain’t always looking for the advantage.    — Firefly

Often, we authors tend to have laser-focus on our main characters—their development, their doubts, their fears, their flaws, and their strengths—but one thing I’ve learned through writing my urban fantasy series is that one of the most effective ways to measure your protagonist is through their family. After all, no man is an island. However, what happens when your lead is an orphan? Is blood the only thing that makes family? I beg to differ.

51692sJGRvL__AA160_Jordan Amador started out as just another happy little girl with a single mom, Catalina, until she was five years old and her mother was taken away to a psychiatric hospital. Jordan was sent to live with her mother’s older sister, Carmensita, and unfortunately, Aunt Carmen was not mother material. It turns out there was extremely bad blood between the sisters and Aunt Carmen only took Jordan in to exact her revenge through physical and verbal abuse. Jordan later ran away and started her own life, but fate had something planned for her. After accidentally murdering a Seer, Jordan finds out that she has the ability to see and hear ghosts. She is sentenced to help a hundred souls with unfinished business cross over or she’ll go to Hell. A couple years later, only days from her two-year deadline, Jordan bumps into Michael: a handsome, sarcastic poltergeist who is the final soul that will save her soul. Unfortunately, his case busts open Pandora’s Box—robbery, murder, a deadly conspiracy, and bloodthirsty demons with an ax to grind.

51uJTLZy6zL__UY250_Jordan spent most of her life as a teenager and twenty-something on her own. She’s very closed off emotionally thanks to being raised in a broken home and missing her mother, who died not long after she was committed to the psychiatric hospital. As the story continues, she bonds with the archangel Gabriel, who occasionally drops in to check on her progress with the souls she saves and later becomes like an older brother to her. He offers advice, teases her about her peculiar relationship with Michael, and gently reminds her to have faith in herself when times get rough.

Jordan’s best friend and fellow waitress Lauren Yi also has a large impact on her life, primarily as a playful voice of reason. She is fully aware of Jordan’s crotchedy personality and knows how to prod the truth out of her when she’s being hardheaded. Whereas Gabriel is always polite and appropriate, Lauren gives Jordan candid advice and won’t take no for an answer when she tries to deflect attention away from something that’s bothering her, like any good sister would. Plus, Lauren has a six-year-old daughter named Lily who looks up to her “Auntie Jordan” and is a beacon of light in Jordan’s mostly dark world. They are constant reminders that in spite of all the violence and the sacrifices the life of a Seer requires, there are still simple, beautiful things to live for.

Writing family has never been a challenge for me, as I have been fortunate to have a loving, supportive, colorful family. They might not see it right away, but many of my family’s interactions with me have influenced how I write Jordan’s true companions. We make fun of each other, but we do it out of pure affection. It’s a lot easier to keep your head above water with your family as your life raft. Just as I wouldn’t have made it this far without my family, neither would Jordan, and I think that’s what makes the best fictional characters. Family can show the many shades and layers of a character, whether implicitly or explicitly, and that’s why they’re vital to any story, fictional or not.

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Lucy Varna – On the Nature of Family

One of my definitions of “family” is that group of people you bring into your life as friends – sometimes intentionally, and sometimes simply because they’re there.  During my 14 months as an indy author, I’ve gotten to know some terrific, fascinating people… simply because they were there.  Lucy Varna is one of those – a fellow member of KBoards who responded to my request for guest blog posts on the subject of family.  Here are her reflections.  I think you’ll agree after reading them that she’s someone you’d like to know better.

My son was born in 1997. At the time of his conception, I was unmarried. His biological father left within days of learning of the pregnancy. A couple of years later, I married the Army, and five miserable years after, divorced it.

I dated. Sure, I did, once seriously for about a year. The relationship inevitably dissolved, and when it did, my then nine-year-old son bowed his head and said he’d miss my boyfriend because with him around, “It was almost like we were a family.”

The Enemy Within - 2 - CopyThis staggered me. Through all of our ups and downs, I had always held tight to one belief: my son and I were a family, stronger than any I’d ever known. He was my heart and my life, and I his, yet he believed we were incomplete without a father figure. To this day, I don’t know why he thought that. Had his early childhood with a stepfather conditioned him to believe that a father was a necessary part of a family, or had our conformity-driven educational system inculcated this notion into him, or…? It was a puzzle I never solved.

Before I go on, let me state that, yes, every child needs a father in his or her life. I’ve known many wonderful men who were excellent dads: my father, his stepfather, my mother’s father, various uncles and family friends.

It just so happens, though, that no one was ever a great father to my son. Not his biological father, who abandoned him, or his stepfather (and ditto), or that one guy I dated seriously, and none of that was ever my son’s fault. So we soldiered on, me and him, a family in spite of everything else.

Before I became an author, I was a professional genealogist. During the decade I spent in that career, I studied historical families in depth and at length, and I saw a lot of variances on what a family was. Today, we talk about blended families. That’s really a very modern term, but it applies well to families across the ages. My own father was raised in a “blended” family. His father died during World War II while my father was in utero. A few years later, my grandmother remarried to a truly wonderful man who raised my deceased grandfather’s sons as if they were his own.

Not all families were so lucky. One of my ancestors, James R. Roberts, married twice. He and his first wife had one son and four daughters. After her death, James remarried, and not long after, the children by his first wife were forced to move into a separate home, headed by the eldest son and his wife. Upon James’ death, that son administered his father’s estate and the second wife, well… Let’s just say that she made her stepson’s life difficult and leave it at that.

On the other hand, there was the sad case of the children of Pierce Alford and his wife, Amanda. Pierce died during the Civil War when his youngest child was a toddler. Amanda remarried and, not long after, passed away, essentially consigning her children to the state of penniless orphans. Fortunately, their stepfather was a kind man, or at least a responsible one. He reared Pierce and Amanda’s children, caring for them until they were old enough to care for themselves.

As a writer, I continue to explore the nature of family on an everyday basis. My current work in progress, Say Yes, is a romance. The story world is based on the result of a simple question: what if the Amazons of Greek mythology were real? Levi, the hero of Say Yes, is descended from the Seven Sisters (the progenitors of the Amazons in this story world). His love interest, Sera, is a single mom who has built a wonderful family out of the ruins of a bad relationship. Is it any less of a family because her son’s father chose to leave and her family contains only two individuals? No, nor is it any more of one.

Family is what we make of it. It might be a father struggling to raise two children after his wife’s death, or four generations working together to build something good and strong, or a single man caring for his elderly neighbor whose children have abandoned her. What binds a family together is what’s in the heart, nothing more and nothing less. Without the heart, the ties of blood are meaningless, but with it, a family can weather all storms, regardless of the depth of kinship or lack thereof.

In the post-modern world, we’ve been conditioned to believe that norms and averages are absolute. When it comes to family, there’s no such thing. There is no normal. There is no absolute. Each family is as unique as the individuals of which it is comprised and the strength of their hearts. It’s a lesson we all need to remember, and one I’ve tried very hard to teach my son.

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Lucy Varna is a former professional genealogist with a special interest in researching the historic rural poor. Her first novel, The Prophecy (Daughters of the People, Book 1), was published in February 2014. She lives in rural northeast Georgia with her son in the midst of a large, extended, and often eccentric family.  Her author website is LucyVarna.com.