Saturday, March 15, 2014

The tale of two brothers, and yes... I answer "why." (Spoiler Warning) #fullertonfamilysaga

On February 28, I released Enraptured, Book #3 in the Fullerton Family Saga. I stated from the beginning that one member of this powerful family would risk it all for love and meet a tragic end. I did this so that readers who might be sensitive to this kind of plot twist could avoid this series rather than be disappointed or let down.

It's a triangle, and triangles are going to disappoint someone somewhere along the line. Eventually the main character will choose, and the best an author can do is make that choice understandable, if not necessarily liked, by the audience.

That did not, however, influence my decision to include a tragic end for this particular character. His death was never meant to make an impossible choice easier.

The Fullerton Family Saga was always meant to be a triumph over tragedy. Most know that is because of the emotional place I was in when I wrote the book. I told you about losing my son, Brandon, and finding solace in a beautiful little boy named Jonathan Fullerton, who was an old soul whispering through the ages.

Because I was processing loss and grief in my own life, those things found their way into the book. This became the story I needed to tell, even though... at the time... I didn't realize why that was exactly.

After 19 years, I finally got the distance I needed to answer the one question I see repeated throughout reviews from devastated and heartbroken readers:


So I thought I'd answer that question in more detail for anyone who might be asking it.

SPOILER WARNING: If you have not read all three books, key plot points will be discussed below. Proceed with caution.

Drew and Alex Fullerton are dynamic brothers who embody very different characteristics. Drew is, without question, the alpha. He's strong, he's dynamic, he's exciting. He plays to win and takes what he wants. This is the kind of man we think of when we think of men in power. He's seductive and alluring, even though he probably shouldn't be. There's an exquisite danger in that. We know it's a bad idea to want these kinds of men, but despite our best intentions we find that we are succumbing to their charm and submitting to their will.

The other side to power is a certain ruthlessness and selfishness. In order for him to win, someone else must lose. To those driven to win at all costs, empathy is a liability. This was the message he was taught by an even more formidable father, who did his level best to beat any of these "weaker" characteristics out of his son so that he could succeed in the cutthroat world of international business.

Suffice it to say, Drew did some pretty shitty things, generally without apology. The first book ends with a rather shocking betrayal that sends our intrepid protagonist Rachel back to her safe, comfortable, normal world in Texas. This betrayal cuts so deep that she uncharacteristically ends up breaking a promise, which was previously unthinkable for our honorable heroine. To say she was leveled is putting it mildly, and this is a woman who had been brought to her knees and broken before, in unimaginable ways.

Book #2 follows her as she struggles to find her footing. She knows at this point that Drew, as he is, is not the partner she needs for a HEA. She attempts to think with her head and heed the warning signs she had previously discarded. She sees that Drew, as he is, is a broken little boy and an angry, entitled man who traded love for ownership and control.

But the heart wants what the heart wants, even when presented with a viable option.

Alex Fullerton is the antithesis of Drew. He is empathetic and sensitive, artistic and expressive. He's kind and loving and fiercely loyal, even when all these traits were derided by an abusive dad who pigeonholed him as weak. This caused him to withdraw behind a gruff bravado of snark and contempt. This was a facade he had to maintain his entire adult life, especially as he suffered some heavy emotional blows of his own. His strength didn't come from controlling the wind, but from weathering the storm. Not exactly a trait historically prized by the Fullerton family. As a result, he settled into the role of black sheep, shunning what they had spent generations building and loathing the ruthless drive of his ancestors to win at any costs.

This includes his brother. There is no love lost between these men when Rachel enters their lives. The Fullerton family had everything in the world, but the one thing their family had been missing was unconditional love. Only her strength and her dedication could reconcile these two brothers and heal what had long been broken.

This was the original plot I crafted so many years ago, and it never occurred to me to change it. I would tell this story because it was a story I felt I needed to tell, as is, despite the risks. And I knew going into it that in order to tell this story correctly, I couldn't hold anything back. So even though one of these characters found a loyal fan base that begged me to spare his life, I knew I couldn't alter this course.

Which brings us back to the "why."

When I sat down to write a preface for the third book, essentially sharing with all of you how this story came to be and why your continual, passionate support for this series means so much to me, it hit me like a ton of bricks that this book was not just therapy for a bereaved mother. Drew and Alex proved to be unintentional metaphors to mentally work through the tumultuous relationship I had with my first husband, Daniel Rutherford.

I met Daniel when I was 17, and he left me thunderstruck. He was strong and he was tough, with enough of a gooey center to be everything you'd want in a hero for your happily ever after. Yeah, maybe he was more of an anti-hero, but I idled somewhere between complicated and chaos. I wasn't intimidated by a challenge.

Yes, he was broken and yes, I thought I could fix him. And I loved him as passionately as I ever loved anyone, determined to break through the walls and save him from himself with nothing but my love alone.

As the years passed, tough turned into abusive, strong turned into controlling. And I watched this man, who had the biggest heart of anyone I've ever known before or since, become hateful, hurtful and terrifying with little to no provocation.

In 1994, seven years into our relationship, we learned that Daniel suffered from bipolar disorder with schizophrenia and psychotic episodes. And yes, it was often every bit as bad as it sounds. Many times it felt as though I was living with two very different men who just so happened to look alike, and I never knew who I was going to deal with day to day.

Dan was equally tormented by his lifelong affliction and often called that dark side of him His Shadow. There were times when I could look at him and see a stranger staring back at me.

By the time I gave birth to and subsequently buried Brandon, Dan was on a mission to figure out a way to manage his illness. It was not an easy journey. Diagnosing the mental illness proved far easier than figuring out how to treat it. And I was working through a lot of that in the book without even realizing it. Once we realized that his behavior had a legitimate medical reason, there was no way to "hate" him for much of the pain my family endured when his illness raged undiagnosed and out of control.

I had to find another way to handle that confusing duality I had lived with for all those years, where I fluctuated between loving him and hating him.

In the brothers Drew and Alex, I could divide Dan's personality into two different characters, to separate the ruthlessness from the vulnerability, the need to control and the fear to run away from everything. I could see the weaknesses and the appeal of both types of men from an objective point of view. I understood the seductive appeal of the strong alpha who took me well in hand and guided me from a girl to a woman. I also saw the appeal of the wounded, vulnerable rogue, the bad boy with a heart of gold that I felt hellbent to save, making me stronger in the process.

In real life, yes, I did give this man a HEA he didn't expect, even though our marriage didn't last to the end of his life. We started as friends and sixteen years later we ended as friends, and I was devastated by his premature death at age 43. But I really can't pat myself on the back too much for the changes he made and the man he became. Dan remained his own hero all the way through as he battled these terrifying illnesses, with the silent strength that had attracted me all those years before. He was the who sacrificed it all for his family and his children. He stepped aside and supported me when I married again, to ensure that his children had a strong father figure who didn't wrestle with the same kinds of demons. He took very powerful medication that ultimately shortened his life as it aged him at an accelerated rate and ravaged him physically.

It made those final scenes with Drew that much harder to write.

But this was my story to tell, you see. I watched as Dan finally defeated his shadow to be the kind of man he always wanted to be but was afraid he never could be. After actions that were often irredeemable, he pulled himself up and gave us a legacy beyond the pain and the abuse. It was one of strength... of family...

Of love.

So this is why my fictional saga ended the way that it did. It was always meant to, even if I didn't realize why at the time. My subconscious was hard at work, processing my own experiences through these fictional characters that came from a place so buried I didn't even recognize it until all these years later. It's been rather mind-blowing to figure this out, honestly. When you study literature, you learn about things authors employ to tell a deeply faceted story, regarding theme and imagery and metaphor. It never dawned on me any of this could happen accidentally.

After several people wrote to me to plead Drew's case, there were times when I wondered if I could change this ending and give everyone the happily ever after they wanted. But that was not this story. It would have cheapened it to tell it any other way. It shattered my heart to write those scenes, to let Drew go, to face the pain I knew all too well from my own life. But it was the right thing to do. Anything else would have made me feel like a fraud, and now I see why. I'd have been lying about my own personal truth.

And I understand that some folks are sad or disappointed. As someone who lived it, believe me when I tell you that it's a grief I managed every single day I watched the sons he left behind grow into the men he once wanted to be. With every birthday, every holiday, every milestone... I longed to rewind the hands of time so that Dan could sit right beside me and share each and every triumph. It is unfair all that he missed, and all that we missed with him gone. But that is life, isn't it? It is filled with tragedy as well as triumph, and all we can ever do as artists is render this pain into something beautiful wherever we can. Sometimes it redefines the idea of Happily Ever After, but it steals none of its joy. In one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes, "Vincent and the Doctor," Amy is saddened to find that her influence on a tragic historical figure was not enough to change his fate. Our wise old Doctor tells her this:

"The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant."

This story demanded to be told so that Drew added to his pile the only good things that matter.

Drew Fullerton died a hero for his family, after finally learning exactly what a gift that was. He was no longer in that lonely room. In those final moments, he had everything he could ever hope to have, but often thought were out of his reach. He had the love of a good woman, the promise of his children and the admiration of his brother. It was everything he had been denied his entire life, the consequences of trying to manipulate his life instead of submitting himself to it. I restored everything to him by the time he took that last breath. He was truly loved for all those things he had hidden from the world. This was his happy ending, and a legacy worth passing on to those he left behind.

I hope all this sheds some light on my creative choices, even if it wasn't the way you wanted the story to end. Trust me, I get it. Thank you to everyone who has read this saga and loved these characters. Thank you for taking this journey with me, trusting me to guide where I led, even if it was sometimes a dark and painful place. Your support and your kind words mean more than I could ever say.

And now you know why.

xoxo GV