Frequently authors who’ve been around a while are asked, “How do you decide what to write?” As an author of over sixty books, I still sometimes find that question difficult to answer. Most of the time…probably 99.9 percent of the time I create from simply getting an idea that pops into my head and just says in big bold letters WRITE ME. Often it is an event that propels me to write the book, something that happened in history that grabs my attention and won’t let me go. Sometimes it’s a situation I’ve seen or experienced or heard about. I don’t go looking for ideas because they come to me. As a result, I rarely fear that I’ll one day run out of ideas. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying if the idea is marketable. For me that isn’t the main focus of my writing. For example, when I wrote BEFORE THERE WAS YOU the idea for the book hit me like a ton of breaks and it screamed WRITE ME so loudly that I was able to write a full sized novel in a fairly quick fashion. First draft of course. The story morphed into BEFORE THERE WAS YOU, a story featuring a marine with PTSD and the heroine with PTSD. I had a great time writing this story. Here’s a blurb and an excerpt to give you a taste. In this excerpt, the hero makes a big step in recognizing some things about himself with the heroine’s assistance.
So if you’re writer, where do you get your ideas?
Kidnapped in a foreign country, Lana Burns’ faith in herself and the world has been shaken to the core. Once home, she finds her world mangled into nightmares and depression. Refusing to give in to fear and torment, she searches for answers. Now she must escape a dark mental place before it swallows her whole.
Former Force Recon Marine Aaron MacPherson made it through war without a scratch, but he doesn’t count thick scars carved into his mind, threatening to unhinge his happiness forever. His equilibrium teeters on the edge, his battle moving from combat to everyday life. One wrong word from a total stranger sends him on a path to destruction.
Both Lana and Aaron have seen hell, and group therapy might show them the way out. Forging a link between them could prove perilous to their hearts. When danger strikes without warning, Aaron and Lana must use their bond to create a way to survive the night.
He rarely drank, but tonight he decided a glass of whiskey wouldn’t hurt. He went into the kitchen and found the unopened whiskey in a cabinet. The bottle had been there three years, a birthday gift from Cruz who couldn’t think of anything else to get. Cruz’s words went through Aaron’s head.
Drink it to celebrate something or to mourn something.
He quickly opened it, found a glass, and poured a couple fingers of whiskey. After one sip he carried the glass with him and headed to the computer and sat down. He stared at the glass in his hand for a full thirty seconds. Which was it? Celebration or mourning? Maybe both. Celebrating that he’d recognized the big event that had made him so damned fucked up. Fillman’s suicide. Mourning his fellow marine, and maybe his parents’ divorce if they couldn’t work shit out. If it was both, he might need two glasses of whiskey. He snorted a laugh and put the glass on a coaster.
Master’s Degree application or writing the freaking letter? Which one to start first? Get a life. How the hell did you survive a war when you can’t make a decision?
He turned on the desk lamp and fortified himself with a slow sip of the amber liquid. He put the glass down and stared at the drink. He could slam it down. Maybe it would make relaying this shit easier. Yeah, it probably would. But he’d never used alcohol as a crutch, and he sure as hell wouldn’t start now.
Fuck, who am I kidding? He was using it as a crutch right now. He stared at the blank screen, fingers over the keys. He hovered. He took another small sip of whiskey. Yeah, go girly on the whiskey until you can get this puppy written. In a flash of clarity he understood if he didn’t write this with a clear mind, he wouldn’t tell the truth. He’d gloss it over. He’d pretend. He’d say what he thought others would want to hear. God forbid he freaking got dramatic.
Do the Masters application first. So he did.
He filled in the application and then started the process for having his Bachelor’s Degree transcripts sent to the program. Paperwork didn’t bother him. The military had improved his patience for filling out paperwork because God only knew the military loved freakin’ paperwork. He was refreshed and feeling good that he’d cleaned the house and was now working toward obtaining a Master’s Degree.
Finally he couldn’t avoid the letter.
He opened his word processing program. His fingers hovered over the keyboard. He didn’t know where to start. He decided to just jump and allow a stream of thought to take over. Stream of thought was always more honest.
I seriously considered not writing this letter. The skeptical part of me says this is stupid. The marine in me demands I follow through and not give up. I’ve never been much of a touchy-feely man, so this experience…this whole group therapy thing, is like fingernails over a blackboard. I’ve finally discovered, as I write this letter, what my biggest problem is. The thing that fucked my shit up—
Nope. He couldn’t be that honest. He typed a new sentence.
The thing that broke me and made me crave the need to beat the man in the restaurant.
Tears welled in his eyes. Ah, shit. Okay, this was going to be hard. As gut-wrenching as anything he’d done. He thought of Lana and what she’d say. The comfort she’d give him as he wrote it. Maybe the big bad marine needed a modicum of help. His cell phone was on the charger on his desk, and he snapped it up. Without giving more thought, he called Lana. The phone rang twice before she picked up.
“Aaron.” Her voice held sweetness and welcome. “How are you?”
Oh, hell yeah. There was that soothing, sin-filled voice making him want to kiss her, to lay her down and make love to her for hours. He cleared his throat. “Am I interrupting anything?”
“I’m grading some papers. Nothing that can’t wait.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Aaron, you sound a little funny. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah. Well, okay, that’s kinda a lie.”
“I’m sitting here trying to write this damned letter for therapy.”
“Oh.” The oh was filled with complete understanding. “It’s tough. I’ve already written mine, but I had to keep coming back to it. I wrote it yesterday.”
“I just got home and tried to start. I’ve written an entire paragraph.”
“Good. Don’t be hard on yourself.”
“I’m not sure I even understand how not to do that.”
Longing hit him and tenderness hollowed out his gut. “You’re bossy, Miss Burns.”
She laughed softly. “Oh, I’m pretty good at telling other people what they need to do. Not always so good at taking my own advice.”
“Did something else happen today to make it worse?”
“Maybe. I visited with my parents today and some excrement has hit the fan.”
“Is your Dad all right?”
“He’s good. I guess the doctors think he didn’t do as much damage to his stomach as they first thought. But he’s on medication, and they’ve told him to lower his stress level or else.”
Another laugh came over the line. “Let me guess. He’s not listening.”
“Mom says he isn’t. She gave him an ultimatum.”
“Ultimatum? That doesn’t sound good.”
“She’s going to leave him if he doesn’t do something about his stress.”
“Oh, no. No.”
“That must feel…” She drifted off.
He filled in the blank. “It feels like if my parents’ divorce, that’ll be one more crack in the family. Craig dies, I get arrested, they get divorced. At this rate I’ll turn into a drama queen.”
She laughed, and this time it was full of volume. “Aaron, there is no way you could turn into a drama queen. You’re just human. Sometimes I think you forget.”
“Marines aren’t human, Lana. They’re marines.”
“All right, I’m exaggerating. It’s just the training. Sometimes it bleeds over into the rest of our lives.”
“Of course it does. Transition to the civilian world from the military is hard enough, and then the experiences you had in war make it doubly hard to sort out. But you’re getting there just like all of us are. Step-by-step. The letter is just one more piece.”
“You’re right. As always.”
“What have you written so far?”
He read the short bit to her. “Maybe I should erase that.”
“Why? It’s what you feel, right?”
“Then keep it. Write what you feel. All of it.”
“Is that what you did?” he asked.
“Yes. Wadded up a few tissues too.”
“I’m not going to cry.”
“Uh-huh. Well, even if you don’t, you might need a catharsis afterwards.”
“Exercise? Have you exercised already today?”
He stared at the whiskey glass. “Yeah. But I could do some more.”
“Do you…do you want me to stay on the line while you type it?”
Oh, man. “Yeah. Would you mind?”
“No. Go ahead and put me on speaker and type away.”
So he did. One agonizing word at a time. He checked once in a while to make sure she was there.
“I’m still here. Grading papers,” she said once.
Soon the words wouldn’t stop coming and he typed faster and faster. One tear made a track down his face, but he wiped it away and cursed it internally. So he increased the speed of his typing. If he could get this bad boy written up quickly, he could ignore the tears now flowing steadily down his face. The typos were racking up, but he could fix those later. Finally, he stopped. There was no more to tell. No more. He stared at the black letters on the white screen, but couldn’t read a fuckin’ word. It was blurred.
“Aaron? I don’t hear typing. Are you done?”
“Yeah.” His voice was hoarse. Fuck that too. Another tear rolled down his face. “Shit.” Okay, so there went his vow not to curse in front of women. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay. Did you say all you needed to say?”
“I think so.”
Her voice had turned even more soothing, a quality that wrapped around him.
“Lana Burns, you’re one hell of a therapist.”
“I was hoping I was one hell of a friend.”
He laughed and realized he wasn’t sad. Not one damned bit. It was if the dam had broken and washed away the sins, the gnawing hurt that had pawed away at him for ages.
“You’re amazing, Lana, that’s what you are. I’m getting a handle on this crap once and for all. I’m trying to decide whether to celebrate with this glass of whiskey on my desk. Like I said before, I’ve already exercised for the day.”
“I thought you exercised all the time.”
“I used to. Maybe I’m over that too.” He grinned. “It gets even better. I cleaned up this sorry excuse for an apartment.”
“Wow. I’ll have to see that.”
“I wish you would. Soon.”
Silence hung in the air for a moment before she said, “Maybe next week.”
He closed his eyes, and this time when the tears came, it was out of happiness.
“Drink the whiskey, marine. It’s time to celebrate.”
So he did.