Portrait by Tao Nguyen

Saturday, May 16, 2015


I'm so thrilled with the newest Amazon review for "VANILLA GRASS, a novel of redemption" that posted yesterday, May 15th, I had to share it. I hope you'll indulge my excitement because this is what authors dream of and hope for after investing months, sometimes years, researching, writing and editing, not knowing if all their hard work is successfully coming across.

REVIEW: Every once in awhile, a book comes along that causes you not just to read it, but sit in silence afterwards thinking about what you have been reading. Vanilla Grass is such a book. Once I started, I couldn't put it down. Everyone thinks they know what veterans face when they have PTSD, and you tend to brush aside "at risk teens" with perhaps a unsympathetic view, and oh yes, of course we've all heard about how meaningful a dog can be to a handicapped individual or even one with PTSD, but when you put all three elements into a single story, blend their interactions, speak in their language, and realize how initially, all three were misfits in a throw-away society that really wants to move on and not ask "why," you have a powerful book. In Vanilla Grass you have a powerful document that forces you to mentally address each element. This book was carefully researched by the author giving it, although a novel, a book based in fact. I highly recommend it - especially to Golden Retriever lovers! ~ Joy Viola, verified Amazon purchase

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I extensively researched while writing this novel. I already knew about dog rescue because I've been involved with rescuing Golden Retrievers and other breeds for 25 years so that part was easy. For the writings about PTSD caused from battle trauma, I drew upon memories of my former husband who served two tours in Vietnam. He came back a changed man from what he saw and did there. Although we divorced some years later, we're still friends and keep in touch. I also read extensively on the subject of battle-induced PTSD--articles and interviews. I watched many videos on YouTube and an HBO special featuring returning combatants from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. A close friend who also served in Vietnam shared many stories of his Vietnam experience with me before he passed away from complications due to Agent Orange exposure. It's all included in the book. My husband is a licensed therapist in private practice who has some military clients. Due to confidentiality he cannot give me any specifics about clients, but he was able to tell me many facts about the symptoms and effects of battle-induced PTSD.

Then, there was the challenge of writing teenage slang. While not all teens speak this way, many do and I wanted to be accurate in my depiction of them. I didn't know the first thing about how to write slang. So, I rode the bus to observe and listen to kids going to and from school. I watched weekly TV shows such as "Twisted" and "Graceland" featuring teens and young adults to get ideas of mean things they say to each other (snarking). I also watched movies featuring high school teens. While doing this, I took copious notes. Whenever I needed a particularly descriptive word I didn't already have, I referred to a slang dictionary. Since the book has been released, I've had readers contact me to let me know the kids in the book sound just like theirs!

One more thing--the character of Colleen is based on one of my closest friends (of another name). I asked her permission, and then she started talking about herself while again, I scribbled notes as fast as I could! Everything Colleen reveals about herself through conversation is exactly what my friend told me. I already knew things about her, but I wanted to capture them in her own words.

I wrote this novel as a way to acknowledge our soldiers' internal battles and challenges, and the wounds they live with when they return from war, some visible and others unseen. My dedication page reads: "For all who carry unseen scars." I hope you'll read "VANILLA GRASS" and take something with you to appreciate and remember.

Monday, May 4, 2015


The news reports stories of returning combatants from Iraq and Afghanistan with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but did you know the first written accounts of battle trauma date back thousands of years? The written history of traumatic stress begins with ancient Egypt's physicians. Their reports of hysterical reactions became one of the first known medical textbooks to be published in 1990 B.C.
Twenty-seven centuries ago, “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” written circa 700 B. C. parallel accounts of modern day PTSD. Achilles, the hero of “The Iliad” was undergoing traumatic battle experiences and suffering stress reactions similar to combatants of the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and the Gulf War. Similarly, “The Odyssey” describes the psychological state of Odysseus returning home from the Trojan Wars.

A more current literary figure, Charles Dickens wrote of his emotional trauma after he was involved in a train accident in 1865. Dickens wrote, “I am not quite right within, but believe it to be an effect of the railway shaking.” He summed up his psychological condition: “I am curiously weak-weak as if I were recovering from a long illness.”

Modern accounts of PTSD—or shell shock as it was originally coined—began during World War I. After WWII and the Korean War this term was replaced by war neurosis or traumatic neurosis. The current name, post traumatic stress disorder, became official in 1980.

After so many years, why is PTSD now getting so much attention? One reason is there are a growing number of veteran suicides—22 reported daily. The numbers are so staggering one organization dedicated to assisting our veterans, K9s for Warriors, has started a STOP 22 campaign to spread awareness. K9s for Warriors rescues and trains shelter dogs to become service dogs. Veteran and his assigned dog go through training together. This type of program has been proven successful for veterans battling PTSD. Other organizations such as Paws and Stripes, Northwest Battle Buddies, and Gunnar Center are only three of many similar groups around the country dedicated to saving the lives of both shelter dogs and veterans.

The problem of veteran suicides has become so dire, early this year the Clay Huntley Act passed the House and Senate. Here’s a brief excerpt taken directly from the website:

“Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act or the Clay Hunt SAV Act
(Sec. 2) Requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to: (1) arrange for an independent third party evaluation, to be conducted by September 30, 2018, and each fiscal year thereafter, of the VA's mental health care and suicide prevention programs; and (2) submit a report to Congress, by December 1, 2018, and each year thereafter, containing the most recent evaluations not yet submitted to Congress and any recommendations the Secretary considers appropriate.

Directs the Secretary to submit interim reports to Congress by September 30, 2016, and September 30, 2017, on the VA's mental health care and suicide prevention programs.”
A study from June 2014, published online in Current Psychiatry Reports states: “Veterans are more likely to take their own lives when they feel they have become a burden to their family, friends and community, and are socially isolated with little to no meaningful personal connections . . . ”

The Vietnam War produced thousands of veterans returning home with PTSD. Their greeting was often unwelcome and as a result they suffered in silence. Decades later there are still homeless Vietnam Vets living on our nation’s streets with untreated PTSD. Those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are welcomed home, but have trouble readjusting. Many are in a constant state of hyper vigilance and depression.

What exactly is PTSD, and what are the symptoms? Flashbacks, constantly on alert/hyper vigilance, insomnia, depression, anxiety, anger, nightmares, guilt, associated triggers that induce flashbacks, drugs and alcohol, relationship problems, social withdrawal, and isolation. Those with PTSD continue to react to minor stimuli as emergencies i.e., fireworks, car backfire, flashing lights, noisy crowds.

An Army’s PTSD training document provided to medical staff in December 2014 reports that more than half the soldiers with PTSD and other mental health problems still don’t receive care. When they do seek help, sadly many don’t continue and drop out of treatment. Soldiers believe that reaching out to a mental health provider will be held against them by their peers and leaders, and could damage their careers. If they have families to support losing their career would not only bring shame, but would remove their source of income and benefits.
If you know someone battling PTSD let them know you care and are deeply concerned for their well being. Encourage them to seek help because things are changing and more help is available. This conversation could save their life.


After years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army is overhauling its mental health services. Article written by Hal Bernton, Adam Ashton, April 11, 2015 updated April 12, 2015

Congress.Gov – H.R. 203 – Clay Hunt SAV Act 114th Congress (2015-2016)
Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act signed February 12, 2015

Current Psychiatry Reports published online, June 2014 Volume 16
Suicides in the Military: The Post-Modern Combat Veteran and the Hemingway Effect by Carl Andrew Castro, Sara Kintzle

Post traumatic Stress Disorder: A Chronological Account written by Kevin Roberts, Ph.D.