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.

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