|photo by Scukrov via Dreamstime.com|
As a nurse, I was often involved in their medical care, and in helping to coordinate aftercare for illness and injuries. This led me to include war veterans in two of my stories: Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer's love story, where Jack served as a medic in World War II; and Swim Season, where Aerin's mother is an Army Reserve nurse, a Wounded Warrior, ruggling with the impacts of war in Afghanistan - a persistent blast injury, PTSD, chronic pain, opioid addiction, and depression. My attempt in this book, small as it may be, was to explore her experience, which is the experience of so many of our vets, by telling her story. Of all my characters, she is one of my favorites.
Devon was on duty in the ER at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City the day terrorists struck down the Twin Towers. This hospital, just outside Ground Zero, was the first stop for victims and recovery workers in need of medical care. Deeply affected by the events of that day, Devon volunteered to work double shifts during the rescue and recovery effort. When the US went to war with Afghanistan, she enlisted in the Army Reserve, against her husband's wishes, to provide care to the troops.
On her second tour of duty, she participated in a mercy mission to help locals in a nearby village and was caught up in a suicide bombing. Shrapnel ripped through her right hip, requiring surgery resulting in complications, infection, chronic pain issues, an addiction to narcotic painkillers, and post-traumatic stress disorder. She returned to her family as so many other veterans do: broken in body and spirit. Her drug addiction eventually led her to steal narcotics from her employer. She was caught, took a plea deal, and is serving a six-month sentence with rehabilitation during her daughter's last high school swim season.
I didn’t know Devon too well at the start of the story. She’s absent other than being referred to in conversations and letters and doesn’t come on to the stage until page 170. The funny thing is that as I approached the scene where Devon enters the story as a full character, I found myself excited to finally meet her. She intrigued me, and I lingered over the writing of it. I grew attached to her, and when I finished the chapter I was unable to go on with the story for a few weeks because I didn’t want to leave her behind. She only makes two more appearances in the book, but is present in other ways, including letters and email, and her love for Aerin pervades the entire novel.
To learn more about how I created Devon, please read my blog post "Writing a Vet - How My Character Led Me to Take on the Plight of Our Returning Veterans."
In honor of our veterans, the Kindle version of Swim Season is free for Veteran's Day. Pick up your copy here.