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Author Interview with Mary Ramsey
PBR: You wrote so authentically about the challenges of Sean living with cystic fibrosis. How difficult was it to write about the chronic illness?
As a cancer survivor I have some understanding of the struggles that Sean faces; a level of pain that is difficult for others to understand, lack of compassion from employers. In writing Dakota Son, I found myself going to emotionally raw places, but I remember that I survived and have been cancer free for nearly a decade, while people like Sean must live in that reality for the foreseeable future.
Sean’s life was inspired by YouTube stars such as Mary Frey of ‘The Frey Life’ who Vlog about their daily struggles and the amount of hope and faith it takes to live not knowing what tomorrow will bring. But the authenticity came from my husband’s struggle with chronic illness in the form of various lung infections that have resulted in dozens of emergency room visits and hospital stays.
I’m a very overly emotional person, so I have a tendency to go to the extreme when describing medical conditions. I could easily write about someone sobbing, as their life flashes before their eyes. So it was my husband who helped me to describe the behaviors, thoughts, and emotions of someone going through a traumatic recovery; having a neck trach, breathing tube, even the process of recovering from a coma. His advice kept my mind and heart rooted in reality.
This was probably the hardest question to answer, and I really had to force myself to be 100% honest.
PBR: Dakota Son also deals so well with post-traumatic stress disorder. How important was it for you to write about such a serious issue?
My editor made a remark about the scene when Sean first witnesses the severity of Diego’s PTSD, “Sean would know a thing or two about PTSD.” I realized she was correct and made that empathy a crucial part of his character. Everyone has the right to hurt, and everyone has the right to compassion and understanding.
Mental health, in general, is a topic that needs more attention, as this modern society still stigmatizes those who wish to seek help. As a veteran, I wanted to bring to the forefront the issue of mental health for veterans. During our time in service we, as the military, are told to keep our emotions under control. There were mental health clinics available to us but the culture was to “get over it”. The character of Diego was inspired by people I met in a support group when I was dealing with workplace stress and anxiety. Let’s just say on a scale of 1 to 10 my issues were about a 3 compared to the stories I heard from my fellow soldiers. When leaving the military I found much more options for mental health via the VA medical system. But judging by the news media, my local VA may be the exception.
I would love for readers to see Diego in every man, woman and child who struggles with addiction, depression or anxiety. PTSD, like many mental illnesses, is so easy to overlook until it’s too late.
This answer is full of truth, even though it seems to go off on a tangent.
PBR: Dakota Son is a serious novel but also mixes in romance and humor as well. How did you find the balance between the seriousness of Sean’s sickness and the light moments he shares with his sister and girlfriend?
From the beginning I wanted Sean to be a typical Midwestern teen; sheltered, having come from a small town, and self-absorbed in the drama of his social life. Cystic Fibrosis was just something he learned to live with, and as such he learned to find humor in the daily struggles.
With his sister, he’s constantly trying to play catch up; to prove to himself that he deserves to be on the same level as her both physically and academically. The hilarity being; she always saw Sean as the superior one, and she was just honored to be by his side. And his girlfriend is someone who is as damaged as Sean but in a different way. They become two halves of one whole, playing off the ironic absurdity of their tragic lives. However, I think the funniest moments were between Sean and a certain ghost.
And I stand by that statement. 🙂
PBR: Your writing is so realistic and heartfelt. Which writers have influenced your writing?
Chuck Palahniuk is my favorite author of all time. His stories are like modern-day fairytales incorporating realism with a hint of the fantastical. When I started Dakota Son my dream was to be a female Chuck Palahniuk (the earlier drafts were a bit more adult themed.) But after working with an editor I was inspired to strive for John Green’s style of creating diverse characters that overcome through self-discovery. Although the stories on my blog site: https://dourdan.wpcomstaging.com/ post- Dakota Son, have brought me back to my Chuck Palahniuk ambitions, diving headfirst into the world of sci-fi, horror, and romance.
Any readers of my Caterpillar Series you have Chuck to thank for that level of twisted inspiration. 😀
PBR: What do you want readers to learn from Dakota Son?
I want readers to be inspired to live their best lives, not only for themselves but for the people around them. We may not all be stars but we can be the light at the end of the tunnel. Be that one person who lives their life to make people smile. The only way to achieve true of happiness is by carrying each other to the finish line.
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