Not Your Usual Characters with Anna Steffl

I’m happy to be able to host author Anna Steffl today. Anna lives in Athens, Georgia, home of the New World gods of football and alternative music. She has held a string of wildly unrelated jobs, from frying chicken to one that required applying for a Department of Defense security clearance.  She is a past president of Georgia Romance Writers and a Golden Heart Award finalist.

Anna’s Solace trilogy begins with Seeking Solace, which follows Arvana, the only Solacian capable of seeing the Blue Eye’s revelations, as she reluctantly leaves her cloistered refuge to seek a champion to wield a relic against the resurrected draeden. The obvious champion is the charismatic Prince Chane Lerouge, who possesses the one remaining sword the ancestors used to end the Reckoning. But the unknown warrior, Captain Degarius, unrelentingly pursues a rumored lake monster with a blade whispered to be blessed. Will Arvana’s mission earn her the elusive solace she seeks or spiral her heart—and the world—into a second Reckoning if she chooses the wrong man? Downplaying magic in favor of romance and fantasy, Arvana’s adventure boasts strong characters in an immersive, realistic new realm.

The story continues in Solace Shattered and Solace Arisen.

Today, Anna is giving us a look into the writer’s mind and how sometimes writing is the thing that keeps us sane when the real world throws one difficulty after another at us. Often, escaping into our made-up worlds are the calm in the middle of a storm. Here’s Anna…

My draeden thank Trish for the opportunity to strut for Ermengarde—especially the fire draeden, Seraph. He thinks he’s hot stuff because he modeled for the hilt on the cover of Seeking Solace, my fantasy with romantic elements that is the first book in the Solace trilogy. But I don’t advise Ermengarde to take notice of him. Sure he is a model and has a great side job with the sovereign, but I’m not certain he has a future outside the cage.  He’s a kept draeden.

After one paragraph you know I write weird stuff.

Which brings me to my topic—unusual characters. I’m going to talk about Nils, a eunuch with dementia and dysphagia—swallowing problems. He’s a minor character, as are most unusual characters in a romance or a book with romantic leanings. How he came to be, and the role he plays, was an insight into my writer’s mind and life.

No, I don’t know any eunuchs. But I do know people with dementia. You do too, I bet.  With the increase in lifespan, dementia is far more common that it once was, and is putting new emotional, physical and economic demands on families and caregivers.  That’s a pretty way of saying it sucks. Really hard.  Being around someone with dementia for long periods of time is like turning a kettle on to boil. Sooner or later, steam is going to build and the thing will whistle (though my kettle shrieks).  I was, or rather am, that kettle. Writing, in part, helped to turn the heat down a little. I created the eunuch with dementia and the person who struggles to deal with him—the sovereign, the villain of the story. It isn’t the hero or heroine who deals with the demented eunuch. It is the villain. Because you never feel like a heroine when you’re caring for someone with dementia. You always feel like you could, or should, do more.  

My villain, the Sovereign Alenius, is conflicted about his relationship with Nils.  One part of him can’t stand being around Nils. The forgetfulness and the constant spitting and coughing are hard to endure. The other part pities Nils and clings to their past relationship, to their loyalty to one another.  This struggle humanizes Alenius.  He’s not all bad. I’m not all bad.  Nils isn’t innocent either. His resentment about his loss of power pushes him to an awful act. Ever have to try to convince someone not to drive anymore?

Creating Nils was, I admit, a strange way of not only working on my mixed feelings about caring for someone with dementia, but for finding a use for those feelings.

What do you do to deal with your anxiety about caring for someone with difficult needs? These feelings aren’t dragons we can slay with blessed swords in one epic battle; it is a long, slow fight without a winner—and I fear the dragon’s ghost haunts us long after the battle ends.

Comments

50 Comments

  • Amy Conley says:

    is he mine?

  • Jane says:

    Welcome Anna,
    My mom is a home health aide and one of her clients suffers from dementia. The client is prone to mood swings(gets angry for no reason and swings his cane around) and he has a tendency to walk out his apartment while my mom is cooking or cleaning for him, but luckily she catches him in time before he goes too far.

    • Anna Steffl says:

      Jane, your comment brought to mind how hidden the difficulties of dementia are. By the time a person has moderate dementia, they pretty much need stop appearing in public. People have no idea what families are going through.

  • Amy Conley says:

    what a loaded question. the question with should be better phrased as what don’t you do. I don’t sleep. in the last 15 years I’ve had husband who’s had 4 heart attacks, a daughter in a serious car accident where the doctor told us not to expect her to live, assign has had two serious accidents in semis the second which is left him paraplegic, mother in law with her second round of breast cancer of those this time it is through the entire body including her bones, my favorite aunt has just been diagnosed with the same sort of cancer only heard this come from her lungs and her entire body and they’ve given her 3 months, and just this week I found out that my mother is very ill and I mean very ill. is it any wonder I don’t sleep? I don’t read because I can’t concentrate, I get 3 each day with a series of medications and only sleep because of sleeping pills thank you God for inventing them.oh yes I cry, I scream, I yell I do all those things also. the one thing that gets me through it all and my grandchildren and there’s even an issues there. but being with them does make me think are at the present in the future a long, healthy, happy future.

    • Amy Conley says:

      sorry using voice to text it should not say assign but “a son”.

    • Amy Conley says:

      sorry using voice to text it should not say assign but “a son”.
      and I forgot to add a grandson who also suffer through 6 years of leukemia, thank God he is cancer free right now living a normal 9 year olds life.

    • Deb says:

      Amy, prayers to you for being a strong woman and enduring what you do. My husband has had two heart attacks and it is always on my mind of if and when. God Bless.

    • Anna Steffl says:

      Amy, you are a soldier with a thousand medals for bravery under fire and a purple heart for self sacrifice. Few people in this world can undertake what you’re doing. No one should have to endure what you do. But there’s no grand ceremony and award for you. I can only think that God must sorrow with you and marvel at you.

    • Amy, so sorry to hear about all the health woes in your family. I hope things are much better soon.

      • Amy Conley says:

        the saddest thing for me right now if I can’t read. there are so many things going through my mind I can’t concentrate on any one thing including a book. books have always been my escape always first long as I can remember and now I can’t even pick one up.

        • Anna Steffl says:

          Oh Amy, you need a break. I know that sounds hard, harder than just keeping going because it involves so much planning. It seems easier to just keep on and on. But you won’t be able to care for anyone if you don’t get a bit of a break regularly. I know…it seems so impossible. But you’re already doing the impossible.

  • Helen says:

    Hi Anna

    This one does sound very interesting and yes I have known a few people with dementia and they are very hrd to cope with but for me when things get tough I turn to reading where I can lose myself LOL and yes spending time with my grandkids helps as well 🙂

    Have Fun
    Helen

  • Deb says:

    My dad has Alzheimer’s, a horrid, demeaning disease. It is very difficult fir my mother, emotionally, financially, and physically. Dad is getting worse, doesn’t know Mother 90% of the time (been married 59 years), has some hallucinations, putting objects in strange places, doesn’t comprehend words or terms we take for granted, and the list goes on. He will most likely move into a memory unit by October. Mother is worried about finances. He worked all his life to end up paying $5000/month for who knows how long, and not knowing if there will be enough. Heart-wrenching to see my mother so emotional, yet strong. Strong because she has taken over everything from finance to decisions large and small.

    • Deb says:

      Sorry, Kindle auto correct…

    • Anna Steffl says:

      Deb, it is tough to see a parent go through that–both your Dad’s condition and your Mother’s struggle. We didn’t really know bad my Mom was because my Dad was taking care of everything–though he confided in us that he was worried about her failing memory. We were in denial, of course, until she ended up moving near me after his passing.

    • Pamela Mason says:

      I think what broke our hearts was when my MIL didn’t recognize us anymore. Alzheimer’s is a hideous disease.

    • You’re right, Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease. My grandfather had it and didn’t even know my grandmother anymore. He was so lost and violent that he had to be tied to the bed at the nursing home. It’s horrible to lose function of one’s body, but I believe losing one’s mind is a million times worse. It’s something that I fear as I also saw what I believe were early signs of it in my mom before she passed last year. I just try to keep my mind active and hope for the best.

  • Shannon says:

    Dementia is so hard. My mom is difficult. She has TIA in addition to it. So one moment she’s fine and then another she’s not. I spent 5 weeks taking care of her until we could get her into assisted living; more because she couldn’t walk with dropped foot than the dementia. During that time, I took her to doctor appointments. One time she insisted that the clinic was on the right and I was sure it was on the left. So I got into the right lane and sailed past the clinic. I then turned right so I could come out on a light since a U-turn was illegal. She insisted that I go straight, and I did so know it was wrong. She then got a panic attack because she had no idea where she was. She kept telling me where to go, and I just ignored her even though she got really angry with me. Three months later, she got the dropped foot cured through physical therapy and is now living at home. I called her yesterday. That was a difficult conversation; she’d start on a thought and then lose track over and over again. I wish she weren’t driving. I wish she had stayed at the assisted living. And being 2,000 miles away I cannot do anything. My brother is just tired of the whole situation and her rage when we try to intervene. So we stand by and hope that the worst doesn’t come to pass.

    While I am home, I also have a friend in her 80s. In the last two years, she too has begun to suffer from dementia. Her friends and I debate what to do. We don’t let her drive us any more. We shudder when she says that she finds the Hospital signs to get back home. She shouldn’t be driving. But we are friends, not family (she has one cousin who also has dementia) and can’t take any action. She needed to go to Home Depot. I gave her directions to Home Depot, and it was clear she had no idea what I was saying. So I took her to that store.

    As you can tell, the situations just makes me sad and desperate. There’s little I can do because both are in denial about their decline.

    • Anna Steffl says:

      One of the hardest things about dementia is that there is no stable. Thing do down and up…but more down…so that every day is a new challenge. It wears you out. People often overlook how hard it is to be a distance caretaker. My sister worries and worries, feels sad and wishes she could do more.

      I’ve heard some people disconnect the battery cables of the car. The elderly person won’t usually be able to fix it or call some to. Really, if you are able to drive a car, you should be able to maintain it. My Dad asked my sister to “borrow” to car for a few months, but my sister got tired on my Mom’s constant questions about when the car would be back. Finally, any number of relatives said they wouldn’t get in a car with her and she gave it up. But, most people won’t listen. We got lucky there because my Mom likes to please people.

    • It is exhausting, and I know what you mean about distance being an issue. When my mom was alive, I’d go visit about once a month (she lived 2 1/2 hours away) and do things for her. She was never able to drive, so that wasn’t an issue. She either walked or took the senior citizens van wherever she needed to go and got Meals on Wheels (which was a blessing because I feared her burning down the apartment complex if she tried to cook). I felt guilty for a long time for not living closer, but I just couldn’t for my own sanity. I loved my mom dearly, but she could push my buttons. One of the hardest things is when loved ones don’t understand you’re trying to help them and lash out, usually at the person who does the most for them.

  • Caren Crane says:

    Anna, welcome to the Lair! I can’t wait to read the Solace series. It sounds like just my cup of tea! Or fire wine. Whatever! 🙂

    As for dealing with dementia and dysphagia, that was my poor grandmother who (thankfully) passed away last year. We all loved her so much, but the dementia began years ago and just progressively got worse and worse. Same with the dysphagia, which became seriously bad after a series of falls. She lost her balance all the time and was stubborn about using a walker – or maybe she couldn’t remember how to use it at times. Who knows?

    My mother, a naturally impatient person, became so incredibly patient with Grandmama over the years it was a bit surreal. She lost it at times, sure, but who could blame her? My little grandmother was 90 pounds of ornery much of the time!

    Blessings to you, caregiver. You are doing the very best you can in trying circumstances. It’s a long haul, so keep writing! You’ll likely have fodder for LOTS of “unusual” characters before it’s said and done. Much love to you!

    • Anna Steffl says:

      Hi Caren,

      I’m going to throw in a little plug for my book–it is free from all ebook distributors now as part of promo for book two 🙂

      I hear you about the impatience thing. I still can’t say I’m totally patient, but I waited through 10 minutes while my Mom took every package of cookies from the grocery and handled them before decided she didn’t want any cookies. I’m trying to give myself credit for the good things I do instead of just feeling quilty for the things I didn’t or can’t do.

  • I like to read about characters that are real and sometimes that reality is weird. Sometimes the reality with our real life struggles seeps into our fiction. It is fiction at its best.

    Dealing with dementia is a tough one, because part of you is in denial and can only imagine the person as they were and feel resentful of the changes. Then another part of you is sad and patient and accepts the dementia. There are stories on both side.

    Thanks for your book and creativity and unusual character. Can’t wait for the world to read book 2!

  • Hi Trish! Hi Anna! Trish, thanks for bringing us another interesting author to meet – we do love that. Anna, welcome to the lair and congratulations on the release of the Solace Series. Wow, they sound amazing. Hugs on the tough stuff that life is throwing at you at the moment.

  • catslady says:

    I’ve always turned to reading when things get too much for me. It is the only thing that totally takes me away and helps me take on the next day with a new outlook.

  • Hi Anna –

    Love your covers and the interesting premise.

    While it’s not dementia, I do have to deal with the well being of my much younger disabled sister. She has cerebral palsey that has affected her speech and movement. She is defiant in her demands to live independently but I think as she ages that will not be an option. The battle looms in the distance.

    • Hugs on the future tough situation. Sometimes that’s almost as hard as actually dealing with it when the time comes. For years I worried about what I’d do when my parents got too old to take care of themselves because they were both horrible patients, defiant. I think fate was kind in a way that they both went before any of us had to face that difficult situation that would have no doubt caused a lot of anger and hard feelings.

    • And yes, aren’t those covers gorgeous? They really caught my eye the first time I saw them. I’m really looking forward to reading them — and a lot of other books — when I finish this book I’m writing. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and my brain really needs a break from work.

  • Anna Steffl says:

    Hi Donna,

    I also knew the battle would one day come. But, it ended up –for me–as many little skirmishes that had me flying back and forth to the Midwest many times a year. Then, a catastrophe happened. Sometimes you just wait for the catastrophe.

    • I understand this well, too. Even before my mom got into her later years, she had issues. She had some sort of undiagnosed learning disability, something that wasn’t addressed when she was going to a rural Kentucky one-room school in the 1940s and 1950s. She was functionally illiterate, which just made everything harder. I think there were times she thought I was lying to her, but I couldn’t prove otherwise because she couldn’t read the proof. But I know everyone has their own battles and obstacles, and lots of people have it worse than I ever did. Still, you can’t help but wonder what things might have been like if one or two things had been different along the way.

  • Missy Tippens says:

    Anna, your characters sound amazing! Very complex. Just reading your post has given me some ideas about how to deepen my characters. So thank you.

    • Anna Steffl says:

      Hello Missy!

      The funny thing is that the characters I used to channel much of this current grief were some of the easiest and fastest to write. Granted, they are minor characters, but it made making them seem real so much easier. It was the first time I tried doing this. The idea was born of my psychologist (trying to stay sane!) suggesting I write a journal. I hate to journal. So instead, I pushed that stuff into characters. It ended up making the plot much richer, too.

      • I hate to journal, too! It seems like wasted time to me, though I have friends who find it quite useful. I’d rather use that time writing fiction, even if it is inspired by real life sometimes.

        I think that when you write characters that are partially based on difficult parts of reality, the ease of writing them is because you’re writing with pure emotion. I wrote one book that was fiction but inspired by events in my life. It was actually very cathartic.

      • Missy Tippens says:

        Anna, I’m sorry for your struggles and grief. Writing it into fiction sounds like a great idea to me. Like Trish said, very cathartic.

        I’ve found my books usually end up being about what I’m learning at the moment. In my last one, I was feeling like I needed to get away from the computer more and focus on my family (I realized the kids would be grown and gone before I knew it). So my theme/premise basically ended up being “we need to appreciate what’s right in front of us.” I appreciated my family more when I finished that book.

  • Anna, welcome, and congrats on your terrific trilogy! I thoroughly enjoyed Seeking Solace.

    Thus far, I haven’t had to be a primary caregiver for someone with dementia or another debilitating illness. My grandmother had dementia, though, and I remember how painful it was for my grandfather when she didn’t recognize him.

    • Anna Steffl says:

      I’m so thrilled you liked Seeking Solace, Nancy. You’re a talented writer, so that mean a great deal to me. And, I appreciate the opportunity to be on Romance Bandits. This is an amazing site.