In my Possessed series, I have one character who is never seen and never speaks, and yet he's been mentioned in every book and plays a more important role than I ever imagined him playing. Is he some evil mastermind, controlling dark forces from afar? Or the opposite? Like the guy who makes the recordings for Mr. Phelps in Mission Impossible?
No, my character is a mental health patient, Miss Maggie's son, Frank. When he came home from World War II, his demons followed. He's been living with chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since 1945. His family has, too, because that's the nature of the condition. Miss Maggie's a strong, forthright woman, but if you asked her about having a son like Frank, I'm guessing she wouldn't tell you her feelings straight out. Watching PTSD destroy a loved one's life isn't something most folks can talk about--one of the reasons it's taken this long in history to even give the disorder a proper name and submit it to serious medical study.
People say "write what you know" and in this case, I did. Frank is based on my Uncle Joe Chicco. I dedicated BY BLOOD POSSESSED to his memory. He died not long before the novel was published, after suffering fifty-five years with chronic PTSD. My grandmother took care of him most of those years and yes, part of Miss Maggie is Jennie Chicco, her strength not the least of all. After my grandmother died, my mom and her other brother took over. My mom sent Uncle Joe meals and groceries, kept after him to take his meds, and got him to his doctor and mental clinic appointments. She called him every night to make sure he was okay. When he didn't take the meds--usually when some change came to his life, like when my grandmother died--he'd have relapses. So for 19 years, quite a bit of each week for my mom and by extension, our family, was spent trying to keep Uncle Joe's life as predictable as possible.
In my book, Miss Maggie has the same sort of burden, though she at least has the aid of the VA Hospital in Richmond, which is how she's got time to solve mysteries. But Frank is still a huge part of her life and she plans her schedule around her regular visits to see him. Because her son can't deal with change any easier than my uncle could, she knows she's better off keeping that part of Frank's existence stable.
I've realized lately that characters like Frank are what keep me writing. No matter how bad the market is, no matter whether mysteries aren't selling, I keep writing because people like my Uncle Joe need their stories told.
What got me thinking about both Uncle Joe and Frank Shelby was a special Veterans' Day presentation of Bill Moyers' Journal on PBS this past week, in which he aired a documentary called THE GOOD SOLDIER. You can watch a portion of this at
and if you'd like to learn more about PTSD (which can hit not only soldiers but all kinds of victims of traumatic events and long-term stress), the absolute best website is the National Center for PTSD:
We're fond of saying that death is the ultimate sacrifice of war. I won't argue that it's a great sacrifice, but at least there's rest for the fallen and closure for the family. Military personnel like my uncle, and their families, continue to sacrifice for their country long after the war is over, sometimes for the rest of their lives. On top of that, all too often, society and fellow vets treat them poorly.
If we're going to keep sending people to war, we need to get a clue.
Happy Veteran's Day,
and above all