Carla is generously offering one PDF copy of her novel UNEXPECTED WEDDING to two randomly chosen commenters. The winners will be announced here on Friday, May 16th, between 5-6 PM EST. Please leave your contact information within your comment. Thanks!
When My Characters Teach Me Life Lessons
by Carla Rossi
by Carla Rossi
Thank you for letting me stop by your blog, Elaine, to talk about Unexpected Wedding. I have a special interview treat for your visitors and they can leave comments or questions for the friend I brought today.
Unexpected Wedding follows Unlikely Praise, my previous novel about a worship team at fictional Cornerstone Fellowship. The central romance in that story was about Candi and Shade, but I introduced the rest of the band in hopes of writing more of their stories.
As I develop characters, I try to identify their personalities, quirks, fears, and physical appearance early on so I can sit with them a while and really get to know them. The bass player in the band, Rocky Lionakis, grew into a character with paraplegia that uses a wheelchair. When I wrote “The End” on Unlikely Praise, Rocky was already banging on the walls of my brain and asking for his own story. And while I feel that disabled heroes and heroines are few and far between and totally under-represented in romance, I was scared to write the story because I simply had no real-world experience caring for, living with, or romantically loving a wheelchair user.
Credit: Kreutz Photography
Enter Justin Meaders. I found Justin through a series of e-mails to rehab facilities and SCI (Spinal Cord Injury) forums online. He competes in triathlons, builds hand cycles and races them, flies planes, and generally does whatever he wants. Someone asked his permission for me to contact him and we spent a long time (made even longer since I had to take some time off to kick cancer’s butt…) e-mailing back and forth. Justin said I could ask him anything – and I did. We worked through the mechanics of everything from Rocky changing the oil in his car, to that magical first kiss between Rocky and his love interest, Gia. Since there is literally nothing Justin won’t try or do, I was able to build Rocky into a realistic hero.
When the dust settled and the book was out, I sent Justin a list of “interview” questions because I knew my readers would be just as interested in the remarkable real-life hero, Justin, as I hope they are in my fictional hero, Rocky.
Tell us about yourself and how you came to be a wheelchair user.
Justin: I was 22 and I was racing motorcycles (on a track during a race) and had a high-speed exit from my bike. I did road racing and we go at extremely high speeds with lots of potential for disaster, but since I started out riding motorcycles on my 5th birthday it was a pretty "normal" thing for me to be traveling at very high speeds and think nothing of it. Anyway, I made a small error during a race while going around 150mph and, as you can imagine, my body did not like that too much. Long story short, I broke my back and various other bones and damaged my spinal cord.
I’m sure there was a period of healing and adjustment as you found your new normal. Tell us about the day you decided/discovered you were going to continue to be active and competitive. What was the first thing you accomplished?
Justin: Actually for me that day came pretty quickly. I was lying in my hospital bed and the doctor was talking to us, telling me about the extent of my injuries, and told me I would most likely never walk again. My immediate response was "well then get me a wheelchair then because I have things to do." From that point on I was trying to be like a sponge, soaking up everything I could about being in a chair, so that I could be as efficient as possible. That meant trying to "win" at my physical rehab. I made the whole thing into a competition and it really helped me stay focused and learn a ton.
Credit: Janos M. Schmidt
Did anyone try to tell you not to or that it couldn’t be done?
Justin: There are always going to be naysayers in this life, but I never listened to them before my accident and I certainly wasn't going to listen to them after. I am probably a bit stubborn in that way, but if someone tells me I can't or shouldn't do something I will show them just how well it can actually be done.
Was there a time you almost quit?
Justin: The only time I almost gave up on something was when I was trying to get my flight medical approved with the FAA. They kept on denying me a medical clearance even though I was super healthy and passed the actual exam with flying colors. I thought I was going to have to give up on my lifelong dream of being a pilot. I was actually on the phone with my mom telling her about the latest FAA denial letter I had gotten and she quickly said “well, you are just going to have to make them approve you,” which is very out of character for my mom, so I knew right then that I had to keep fighting for it.
What is your biggest success/triumph so far?
Justin: I think becoming a pilot was one of my biggest triumphs so far. Flying is such an amazing sense of freedom that I can't even begin to explain. Flying for me is something that I truly love and am very passionate about. I love sharing it with others as well. I think right up there with flying is also my racing and where it has taken me. I don't mean to races or results, though. I mean it has taken me to a place where I can share my knowledge with others and help them become physically active again after an injury and get them back on a positive path. My racing has given me a lot and I want to give back as much as I can.
What sport/adventure/race, etc. are you currently training to conquer?
Justin: I am currently training for the upcoming triathlon season. I would like to have a strong season and be able to qualify and represent our country at the world championships again this year. There is something very special about putting on that USA uniform and being a representative of this great nation.
What’s after that?
Justin: After that it will be the offseason. It will be time to recover from the hard training and racing and start the process all over again for the next season. I will continue with everything else and keep building in hopes of making the team for 2016 in Rio for the Olympics.
I’ve noticed you’ve built some bikes for kids. Tell us about that.
Justin: I have built bikes, racing chairs and other adaptive sports equipment for kids. I am not doing it as a full time business, though. It is more of a hobby. I mainly build equipment for kids with disabilities that just can't seem to make the standard stuff on the market work. I really enjoy helping kids get into some kind of activates that will help them to stay healthy and get outside and play with their friends. I think every kid should be able to ride a bike no matter what their circumstances are or what is going on with them.
Were you surprised when you heard from an author about advising for an inspirational romance novel?
Justin: I was a little surprised when I heard about the book project, but at the same time I was excited to help because I wanted Rocky to be as realistic as possible. I was raised to believe that if you are going to do something you should do it right, so I was happy to see that you wanted Rocky to be believable and realistic.
What did you learn from the experience? Did you enjoy it? Would you do it again?
Justin: I learned that it takes a lot to write a book and there are a lot of phases to it. It takes a major amount of detail to get things to work the way they are supposed to and to paint a mental picture for the reader. I did very much enjoy the process though and I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was a lot of fun to help with and it is something I will always remember.
While Rocky’s story in Unexpected Wedding is not based on your personal story, how are you and Rocky the same? Are there similarities in your life?
Justin: I think Rocky and I are a lot alike, actually. We both believe that you should do the right thing in life and that you should help others in need. I am also a little stubborn like Rocky, too.
Rocky found his happily-ever-after with Gia. How about you? Inquiring minds want to know…
Justin: I haven't met my "Gia" yet. I am currently accepting applications, though.
Carla, a cancer survivor, is also the author of THE LIVING END OF CANCER. Here is a blurb:
In April of 2010, multi-published, award-winning author Carla Rossi felt the best she ever had. That all changed with one routine doctor visit. Tossed into diagnostic tests, surgery, chemotherapy, procedures, and targeted drug therapy, Carla gives us a transparent glimpse into what the journey was really like – good and bad. With friends and family at her side, Carla takes us through the ups and downs of her non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer battle with practical and scriptural faith, humor, and her own understanding of the medications that helped save her life.
Carla's Ah-hahs To Tweet:
Carla Rossi: Christian author, cancer survivor, interviewer of triathlon star Justin Meaders. (Tweet This)
Carla Rossi: Going above & beyond the character interview. #BookGiveaway (Tweet This)
Fun and hope on Everyone’s Story: Check out Carla Rossi’s amazing interview. #BookGiveaway (Tweet This)
Carla Rossi is a multi-published, award-winning author as well as a cancer survivor, life-long music minister, and speaker. She has been writing inspirational romance for Pelican Book Group since 2007. Carla lives north of Houston with her husband. She has three grown children and two grandchildren.
Places to connect with Carla: