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Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Jennie Graves Howell has a secret, including being thought of as a loyal wife to her husband serving in Afghanistan, a husband who has demanded a divorce.

Jennie’s family do not want her to delve into the past. Grandpa Mike refuses to talk about his experiences in the Vietnam War and the aftermath. He wants the biggest mistake he ever made to remain hidden in the past, including family members Jennie never heard about until hints of their existence begin to seep through the cracks of secrecy.

Her new friends at the Golden Oaks Family Ties club are willing to teach Jennie the skills she needs to unlock her family’s secrets, but is she willing and emotionally strong enough to learn what her family has kept hidden?

Zina Abbott has a brand new novel out today! FAMILY SECRETS is the story of a young woman's discovery of how she fits into her family when she joins a genealogy club. As Jennie finds out, there are some secrets to be revealed when delving into family relationships! Please be sure to leave a comment along with your contact information to be entered in the drawing for a digital copy of Zina Abbott's story, FAMILY SECRETS!


Jennie smiled, and hoped her face did not reveal the sadness inside. She wished her warrior husband was favorably impressed by her.

Then Jennie snapped her focus back to Quinn. She realized that he had shared something with her that was not common knowledge.

“So, Quinn Armitage Jacobson is your full legal name, huh? I fig-ured the “A” stood for Andrew or Allen or something like that. But Armitage! That is such an interesting middle name.”

“Interesting, huh?” he grimaced. “You are too kind.”

“But Quinn, that is a great name. I mean, Quinn is a pretty neat name in and of itself, but Armitage? How distinguished!”

“I’m happy you think so. The whole time I was growing up, if I ever told someone my middle name, they found some way to ridicule me.”

“Oh, that sounds like something little kids would do. They poke fun at anything out of the ordinary.”

“It’s supposed to be some family name,” he shrugged. “I don’t remember the details.”

“Would you try to find out? I’ll bet there is a great story behind it.”

The corner of Quinn’s mouth turned up in a half-smile.

“So, is that my assignment, Jennie? Do you need birth dates and places, too? You already have the nicknames.”

“That’s up to you,” Jennie laughed, suddenly embarrassed. “For now, I just think it would be interesting to know the history behind your middle name.”

Then Jennie asked herself, since when? Would Jennie have given the history behind someone’s name a second thought before her conversation with Mrs. Moore?

“And here with all your talk about getting to know historical people, I thought you might be interested in me, personally,” Quinn said with mock disappointment as he slapped his open palm on his chest.

“First of all, you are not a historical person—not yet, anyway. Second, you don’t need an old married lady like me to be interested in you other than as a friend. Aren’t all the other girls around here interested in you?”

“Yeah, right!”

“Well, maybe more would be if you did not throw around those big words all the time. Me, I figure it’s a test.”

“Maybe it is a test. Maybe not too many people pass the test.”

Jennie finished gathering up her backpack and slung it across her shoulder. “Maybe you should stop trying to test people and just be yourself. Try to get to know people and let them get to know you.”

“The test is more fun. Besides, I figure one thing at a time. Like you, I’m coming back to get my education. I’m not here to meet people, especially women. Maybe that’s why I like you so much. You are a woman and taken. You are safe. It leaves me free to concentrate on my priorities so I don’t get off-track like I did in my earlier days. I like being able to be just friends with you.”

Jennie felt her throat constrict. She’d been taken, all right, by her husband. At one time she would have liked the thought that she was considered “safe.” But, looking at Quinn bending his head to look in her eyes, she was not so sure now.

“I need to go, Quinn. Mom is expecting me for dinner. I’ll see you tomorrow in class.”

Jennie waved good-by as she walked away. She turned back for one last look to see how he had taken her final salvo. Quinn was still standing where she left him, watching her with his crooked little smile.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Writing About Combat Veterans - Part 2: Traumatic Brain Injury

 Most people are familiar with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) being one of the psychological injuries that may be suffered by combat veterans. However, along with PTSD, another combat-related trauma that is considered one of the "signature" injuries of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is TBI (traumatic brain injury).

Just what is TBI and how can you as an author portray in your work a character acquiring and suffering from such a condition?

To do so, it is important to know what TBIs are, how warriors receive this type of injury, and what symptoms are manifested. Here are a few quick details about TBIs:

1.  Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan led to increased awareness of TBI among the troops.

2.  Modern protective gear has protected soldiers and advances in battlefield medicine have increased survival rates for many injuries caused by IEDs (improvised explosive devices), RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and other weaponry. In spite of that, some of these warriors have experienced serious brain injuries which have resulted in long-term impairment of how they function physically, cognitively and behaviorally. 

3.  This type of injury has often been referred to as “having your bell rung” or “seeing stars.”

4.  A TBI is caused by the high pressure blast waves from explosions. They rattle the brain inside the skull. Helmets cannot protect from this kind of injury.

5.  There is a distinction between a mTBI (mild traumatic brain injury) also known as a concussion, which cannot be diagnosed by medical tests, and those TBIs that are moderate to severe, which can show up on brains scans. About 20 percent of soldiers from these wars have experienced at least one TBI, but 99 percent are concussions that are considered mild. 

6.  Diagnosis is based on the severity at the time of the injury, not according to the nature or duration of the symptoms afterwards.

7.  Mild TBIs do not require evacuation from the combat area.

8.  Symptoms of TBIs can be confused with those of PTSD. They are both considered “silent” wounds. They are not readily apparent by looking at the injured person.

9.  When a soldier experiences a moderate to severe TBI, s/he is almost always evacuated by air transport away from the battlefield and sent to Germany or the USA for evaluation and treatment.

10.  Some cases of TBI are severely debilitating and require long-term treatment.

11.  A concussion (mild TBI) is defined as a blow or jolt to the head. It briefly causes a person to lose consciousness, even if only for seconds. It causes a temporary gap in memory and leaves the person confused and disoriented. It can cause headaches, irritability, anger, dizziness, balance problems, fatigue, sleep disturbance, ringing in the ears, blurred vision, apathy, cognitive problems which include difficulty concentrating, problems making decisions or difficulty remembering things. Concussion sufferers often experience a low tolerance for lights and noise.

12.  These problems usually clear up shortly after the injury. In some cases, they may last for a longer period of time. In a few cases, symptoms such as headache, insomnia, memory problems, attention, and cognitive issues become chronic.

13.  The treatment for concussion is rest and avoidance of alcohol and drugs until the symptoms go away, which can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

14.  When symptoms continue for some time after a battle-related concussion, it is difficult to separate the cause of the symptoms from other types of injuries or physiological effects of working in a combat situation.
15.  Concussion is not the same as PTSD even though many of the symptoms are the same. Concussion is a physical injury to the brain. PTSD is a set of reactions or symptoms after trauma that may or may not have a physical origin.

16.  A warrior who has suffered a concussion may be at greater risk for PTSD.

17.  As with most injuries of this nature, many active-duty soldiers and combat veterans who suffer from the effects of a TBI do not like to talk about what they are experiencing.

18.  Symptoms of moderate or severe TBI include persistent headache, repeated nausea and vomiting, convulsions or seizures, inability to awaken from sleep, stupor, coma, vegetative state (similar to coma, but the person continues to have a sleep-wake cycle and periods of alertness) and persistent vegetative state (lasts more than a month). Recovery is possible in many cases, but generally is a long and slow process.

In my novel, Family Secrets, Jennie's estranged husband, Gerald begins to act in ways that are not like him. She tries to puzzle out how much of his strange behavior is due to their crumbling relationship and how much may be do to what he is experiencing in Afghanistan. She has no idea what he might be suffering from until later in the book she is asked,

   "Mrs. Howell, do you know if your husband has ever had his bell rung?"
   "Excuse me?" Jennie asked, bewildered.
    "Has he ever suffered a concussion from being too close to an IED explosion?"
   "No," Jennie shook her head. "I mean, I don't know. He's never said anything."

Even though Jennie is married to a soldier deployed to Afghanistan, and the novel includes scenes from the year Jennie's Grandpa Mike fought in the Vietnam War, Family Secrets is not a war story.

Family Secrets is not a traditional Thanksgiving Day story, although Thanksgiving plays a big role in this novel. Not only do we learn of Mike's Thanksgiving experience in Vietnam, but he shares the reason it is important to him to celebrate this particular holiday each year surrounded by his family.

Family Secrets is about three generations of a family, their secrets, how they resolve their individual challenges and draw closer together.

Family Secrets by Zina Abbott is scheduled to be published by Fire Star Press in the last week of October. Plan to get your copy and gain another perspective on why Thanksgiving Day can be a special day for more reasons than remembering the Pilgrims.

Robyn Echols writing as Zina Abbott.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fire Star Press New Release -- White Christmas By Cheryl Pierson -- Giveaway!

Cheryl is giving away a free ebook of her short story White Christmas, so be sure to comment and leave your information so she can contact you.

Since her divorce, busy ER nurse Carlie Thomas has been only too happy to spend Christmas on duty. This year, however, she’s decided to take a much-needed break. What she gets instead is an unexpected houseguest, courtesy of her Uncle Rick.

Derek Pierce, a fireman with no family, needs some special care after being injured in a fire. As Christmas approaches, Carlie discovers that she has more in common with Derek than being alone. But Derek’s wounds are more than just skin deep. Will they spend the holidays haunted by the ghosts of the past, or could this Christmas spark a new, beautiful friendship…or even something more?

The box was being so damn stubborn. Lights, it said on the side. Couldn't have a tree with no lights. And this year, Carlie was going to have a tree. It seemed like every year getting the decorations down got worse, and there was nothing she could do to make Christmas any easier. The box was just symbolic of how bad everything had gotten over the last three years since Dan left her.
Carlie blew a strand of hair out of her face and balanced on the pull-down ladder. This shouldn't be so hard. She really didn't have that many Christmas decorations. Every time she put things away after Christmas, she got rid of something. Lights that had worn out, or ratty garland...something always went in the trashcan or the donation box. Usually, both. And she hadn't bought any new decorations during the last four years.
She'd known her marriage was headed due south then. A year later, she was divorced. Being alone every year didn't get any easier than dragging all this damn Christmas stuff out of the attic. Sometimes, she thought maybe she was getting rid of Christmas, little by little. It would take a miracle to make her care—really care—if Christmas even came next year. But this year, for the first time in the memorable past, she had the week off.
She pulled hard, and the bulky box freed up quickly, nearly sending her sprawling backward off the ladder. She caught herself just in time, adrenaline pumping through her. She backed down the ladder, the box in her arms.
Just as Carlie managed to set it inside the laundry room, the phone rang.
"Oh, huh-uh. I am not going back to work." She'd put in for a week's vacation over a year ago. She hadn't had Christmas off for the last four years. Working as an ER nurse in one of Oklahoma City's major hospitals had not afforded her much opportunity for any time off at all over the last eight years—especially not during the holidays.
She reached for the phone and checked the caller ID, a smile replacing the earlier scowl as she pushed the 'talk' button. "Hello, Uncle Rick. How's my favorite uncle?"
"I hope that's true."
Carlie could hear the smile in his voice. "You know it is."
"I've got a favor to ask, honey."
"Anything." The hesitation in his tone made her curious.
"Well...don't promise it before you know what I'm going to ask." He drew a breath, then said, "Remember a couple of days ago, when two of my men were brought in there at Mercy for smoke inhalation?"
"Yes. That fire over on Shartel—"
"That's right. Kevin de la Rosa and Derek Pierce."
Carlie had been on duty that night. The two firefighters' equipment malfunctioned and they barely made it back outside the burning home before they collapsed. Carlie had taken a keen interest in them, since they'd been under her uncle's command. He'd been sick with worry.
"Kevin's back home with his wife and kids."
"But Derek—" He broke off, and Carlie knew he was unsure as to how to proceed.
She smiled. "I know he was supposed to be released today or tomorrow. He was a little more severely affected." I know because I checked up on him.
"Yeah, they're gonna release him this afternoon. But he needs someone with him. I mean, he has to do the breathing treatments every four hours— I know he won't do that on his own."
"Typical man," Carlie teased.
Rick laughed, then sobered. "There's more to it than that, though, honey. A year ago, he lost his brother, sister-in-law, and two nieces to a Christmas fire. It's coming up on the first anniversary of their deaths, and he's alone. He's recovering from the smoke inhalation, and by the way, you were right. He did have a couple of busted ribs. I know your team was the first to see them when they were brought in."

Carlie's mind went back to the night when Derek Pierce and the other firefighter, de la Rosa, had been brought in. Derek had been in worse shape than his buddy. His dark hair was matted with sweat and grit from battling the flames. Soot and grime smudged his face, layering on his olive skin across his cheekbones. He had been handsome, even in that condition. She remembered the tingle that ran through her when his eyes cracked open and met hers.