A Father’s Near-Death Leads to the Birth of a Book by Shelley Coriell
Story ideas come from everywhere. Snippets of conversation. Dreams. The hunky guy at the office supply store with eyes the color of faded denim. The Broken, the first book in my new romantic suspense series, The Apostles, was born and bred as I sat at the bedside of my dying father.
In 2007 my dad, who lived on a mountain in northern Nevada, checked himself into his small town’s hospital after having what appeared to be a stroke. “A mild one,” he assured the family. “Nothing to get worked up about.” That afternoon, this independent, strong-willed man (aka stubborn and borderline cantankerous) checked himself out of the hospital. The next day he hopped on his quad and accidentally drove off the side of his beloved mountain. The ATV landed on him, crushing his chest, breaking ribs, and collapsing a lung.
The staff at the small, rural hospital told us they could do nothing for him, that he was going to die. Refusing to accept this fate, we had him life-flighted to Salt Lake City. After a touch-and-go forty-eight hours, Dad pulled through.
And that’s when we learned the full extent of his injuries.
He’d had multiple strokes. The not-so-mild kind. The kind that meant he—at age sixty-three—would be forever dependent on others. His spirit was broken.
For the next week, the family gathered at the hospital. My sister, the oldest and the family nurturer, massaged his feet and swabbed his mouth. My brother, Mr. Finance Guy, talked with insurance types and made arrangements for post-release therapy. The quiet, bookish middle child, I had little to offer but prayers. I’d never felt so helpless.
As my dad’s health improved, his spirits worsened. He was mad at the doctors, mad at his body, mad at the world. After a particularly difficult morning, he told us he wished he’d died on that mountain. A horrible, heavy silence followed. Which is when I decided to use the one thing I always have. A good story.
I dragged the chair in his hospital room—you know the kind, the heavy, wooden contraption that folds out into a bed—to his bedside and took out the notebook I carry everywhere.
“You know, Dad,” I said. “I’ve been tinkering with this story idea. Can I bounce some stuff off you?”
“I have this heroine. A news broadcaster who gets stabbed by a serial killer. She’s scarred, physically and emotionally.”
“And I have a Good Guy. Don’t know much about him, but he also has a past that left him scarred. He carries a gun. Maybe an FBI badge.” That’s it. Two hazy characters hanging out in the back of my brain.
Dad turned toward the window.
I cleared the scratchiness clawing up my throat. “The scarred journalist ends up working as an aide to an old man who lives on a mountain…kind of like yours,” I continued on the fly, desperate to reach him. “Oh-oh! The old guy is blind and can’t see my heroine’s scars. His name is…Smokey Joe, and like everyone else in this story, he’s a little broken.”
Dad glared. I saw it. He wanted me to see it.
And I saw something else. A fire—and fight—in his eyes. My dad may be broken. His world may be turned upside down. His future may be unsure. But he was and always would be a fighter.
“And, you know what, Dad?” I said around my first smile in days. “Smokey Joe can be a real pain in the ass.”
My father’s lips twitched. He tried not to smile, but I saw that, too.
I opened my notebook. “So tell me about Smokey Joe. Tell me about his mountain. Tell me about his story.”
For the next two hours, Dad and I talked about an old man on a mountain and brainstormed the book that eventually became The Broken, the story of Kate Johnson, an on-the-run broadcast journalist whose broken past holds the secret to catching a serial killer, and Hayden Reed, the tenacious FBI profiler who sees past her scars and vows to find a way into her head, but to his surprise, heads straight for her heart. And of course in the mix is that old, blind mountain man, who is far from broken. Why ‘ol Smokey is quite the hero.
“Hey, Sissy,” Dad said as I tucked away my notebook after what became the first of many brainstorming sessions. “Smokey Joe knows how to use C-4. We need to have a scene where he blows up something.”
And we did.
So with a boom from old Smokey Joe, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Kate Johnson, Hayden Reed, and the Apostles, an elite group of FBI agents who aren’t afraid to work outside the box and, at times, outside the law. FBI legend Parker Lord on his team: Apostles? There’s nothing holy about us. We’re a little maverick and a lot broken, but in the end we get justice right.
Shelley Coriell is an award-winning author of romantic suspense and novels for teens. Her debut YA,Welcome, Caller, This Is Chloe, was a 2012 Indie Next Pick and Publishers Weekly praised her for her “sparkling wit and great skill in creating complex characters with memorable personalities.” A six-time Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Finalist, Shelley’s new romantic thriller series, The Apostles, will debut in April, 2014 from Grand Central Forever. Shelley lives in Arizona with her family and the world’s neediest rescue weimaraner. You can find her at www.shelleycoriell.com and Twittering@ShelleyCoriell.
Learn more and order your copy of The Broken here.
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