From the AlzAuthors Blog: Ellen Smith Discusses Her Alzheimer’s Novel “Reluctant Cassandra”

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By Ellen Smith

Reluctant Cassandra came to me first as a title. I’ve always been fascinated by Greek mythology and especially with the character of Cassandra. She was given the gift of prophecy along with the curse that her warnings would never be believed. In Greek mythology, Cassandra’s story ends with the fall of Troy—a tragedy she foresaw but was unable to prevent.

What would it be like to see the future and still be helpless to change the outcome? Unfortunately, I’ve lived that experience. Many of us have. When I wrote my own version of a modern-day Cassandra story, I imagined a woman whose father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She could see clearly that his health was deteriorating, but it was still so hard for her and her family to accept the future that was unfolding.

Reluctant Cassandra LargeThe journey that my characters took through anticipatory grief was very similar to what I had just been through in my personal life. I actually wrote Reluctant Cassandra the year after I lost my son. Living through his diagnosis and passing was a heartbreak I hadn’t been able to put into words, but when I stepped into this fictional world, the pain of my own Cassandra experience poured out.

While writing Reluctant Cassandra was cathartic, the story continued to take on a life of its own after publication. Only a week after my release date, I received my first letter from a reader. She had connected strongly with the story because it mirrored her own experience after her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I was so touched that she reached out to share that with me—in fact, I still have her email printed out and pinned over my desk! Her letter was later joined by more notes from other members of the Alzheimer’s community. Here I had written this story at a time when I felt so alone and now it was connecting with readers from all over.

In the three years since Reluctant Cassandra was published, I’ve continued to write and advocate for those with Alzheimer’s. I released a short story collection loosely based on the setting of Reluctant Cassandra on Channillo for Charity, with all proceeds going to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association. Even though I didn’t know anyone with Alzheimer’s when I was first writing Reluctant Cassandra, this disease now has many faces for me. I see those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s themselves, as well as their families, friends, and caregivers. I’m grateful to them for telling me their stories, and honored that they are willing to hear mine, too.

This is the true gift of a story: it reaches across the barriers of time and place and circumstance and allows us to connect with each other. The Greek myth of Cassandra was first told hundreds of years ago, and yet the story still impacted me as a 21st century reader. My novel was inspired by a grief I couldn’t put in to words, but writing this story allowed me to become a part of the Alzheimer’s community. I could never have imagined where the book would lead me when I first thought of the title years ago. I am beyond grateful that it brought me here.

author headshotAbout the Author

Ellen Smith is the author of Reluctant Cassandra, Every Last Minute, and the Channillo for Charity series Ghosts of Eagle Valley, which benefits the Alzheimer’s Association. When she isn’t busy writing, Ellen can usually be found reading, crafting, or playing piano. No matter what she is doing, Ellen is always wondering, “What if?” Ellen lives with her family near Washington, DC.

 

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The Writing Life: Are You a Pantster or Plotster? How About a Hybrid?

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In writing circles, there’s much discussion as to whether one is a pantster or a plotster.

The pantster is the writer who has a general idea of where her story’s going and often allows it to take off in its own directions, where the characters dictate the scenes, dialogues, and plot twists. She’s basically writing from the seat of her pants, picking up details and action as the story evolves. It’s an undisciplined approach but many writers will say the uncertainty involved fuels and motivates them to see where the story goes.

The plotster takes a more disciplined approach, has the entire story mapped out in her head and on paper or her writing device. Her notes include elaborate outlines, character descriptions, back story, and more. Each scene, each chapter, is well planned. There is little room to run off on tangents or be spontaneous. Many of these writers will say this ensures they get the work done in a timely manner. They need structure to meet deadlines and achieve their goals.

Is one method better than the other? If you asked a hundred writers you’d get a hundred different answers. For me, a more hybrid approach seems to work. Continue reading

New Release Spotlight: “A Very Austen Valentine,” Austen Anthologies Book 2

 

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In this New Release, six beloved authors deliver romantic Valentine novellas set in Jane Austen’s Regency world. Robin Helm, Laura Hile, Wendi Sotis, and Barbara Cornthwaite, together with Susan Kaye and Mandy Cook, share variations of Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility, featuring your favorite characters in sequels, adaptations, and spin-offs of Austen’s adored novels. Experience uplifting romance, laugh-out-loud humor, and poignant regret as these authors deftly tug on your heartstrings this Valentine’s Day. 

I loved Book 1, A Very Austen Christmas. Why wouldn’t I? The unforgettable, irresistible Mr. Darcy starred in every story, which were well-written and entertaining. I’m looking forward to Book 2. Darcy’s in two of these stories too.

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Story Descriptions: 

I Dream of You by Robin Helm

Newly-married Elizabeth Darcy has a plan: to charm her too-busy husband into desiring her company as much as he did when he was courting her.  A series of romantic dreams gives her just the push she needs to put that plan into action.

Sir Walter Takes a Wife by Laura Hile

Faced with a lonely future and finding himself strapped for cash, Persuasion’s Sir Walter Elliot manfully decides to marry again. But his careful plans go sadly awry! A lighthearted Valentine mash-up featuring two of Jane Austen’s worst snobs.

My Forever Valentine by Wendi Sotis

Jane and Charles Bingley have married, even though Miss Elizabeth Bennet remains certain Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy gave his best effort to keep them apart. After Mr. Darcy refused to stand up with Bingley and did not attend the wedding, she despises the gentleman more than ever and finds his company intolerable. How will she endure her visit to Kent if Mr. Darcy turns up everywhere she goes?

Pretence and Prejudice by Barbara Cornthwaite

A chance encounter with a handsome stranger forces Elizabeth to resort to subterfuge in order to discover his true intentions.

My Valentine by Mandy H. Cook

Little Charlotte was always determined and independent, traits which served her well as she battled a serious childhood illness and later as she took on Polite Society. Will those traits now deprive her of true love? Or would her lifelong Valentine win her heart?

The Lovers’ Ruse by Susan Kaye

In this Persuasion alteration, Anne is so altered by Wentworth’s love in the summer of 1806, she refuses to give him up when both her godmother and father try to persuade her. “The Lovers’ Ruse” follows Frederick and Anne through their whirlwind courtship and their secret engagement. When Wentworth returns for his Annie girl, the cat comes out of the bag. Continue reading