Like most writers, I supplement my addiction to creativity with a day (and night) job in the real world, the one that exists outside the pages. It ensures the lights stay on and that there is always sauce on the spaghetti. In addition to a steady paycheck, my occupation has opened the doors into the raw emotions people feel on what might very well be the worst day their lives.
I am a firefighter.
For nearly eighteen years I have been given a unique perspective on anguish and fear, anger and forgiveness. I’ve witnessed both hope and misery, and have respectfully drawn on my experiences to make my characters more than superficial mannequins reciting lines.
As I began sculpting the conclusion to Shadowflesh, I wanted to bring out the true emotions of grief then relief. I struggled with how Aileen would react, what she would feel as the story drew to an end. Warning: What follows hints of a spoiler.
Several years ago while pulling a double shift, a house fire was dispatched to our unit. Like clockwork, the crew hopped onto the truck and sped to the blaze. Other than flames blossoming out the windows, it was an average house in an average neighborhood. A family stood outside, clutching what few belongings they had managed to save and staring at the impossible injustice of destruction. Tears streamed down panicked faces.
I asked if anyone was inside. None of them could seem to gather enough calm breath to speak. Finally, a teenage girl coughed up the word “cat.”
As the crew began to snake the thick hoses to the front door, the girl grabbed my arm. She shook her head hopelessly and explained, “He’s afraid.”
I glanced at the flames and billowing black smoke, wondering who wouldn’t be.
As one crew took care of the fire, I had joined the search team. Working my way through the house, I found a back bedroom filled with deadly smoke. I looked around, but found no cat. Then I glanced at the bed, then the bed ruffle. Peeking underneath, I discovered the petrified cat hiding in what little oxygen was left in the house. After coaxing it out, I wrapped it completely in a towel I’d found on the floor.
The girl saw the covered bundle I carried outside, and I saw the grief in her eyes. I could see she believed I carried the lifeless body of something she loved.
I’ve studied the grief cycle. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. She must have sped through those first four phases while I crawled through the smoke and heat, because all I saw on her face was acceptance. She had calmly and sadly accepted her cat had died. Her grief was complete.
She held out her hands, and I placed the towel in her arms. The towel stirred. A slant-eared tabby poked his head out and wailed a long complaint. The girl’s eyes lit up and a smile spread across her face. And she exhaled, shattering her grief as if it had been a fragile stained glass window.
In Shadowflesh, Aileen didn’t lose a cat. She lost something much more dear to her. She fell through those same emotions as quickly and sadly as the girl who stood before her lost home. Fate had been cruel to each of them. As the story drew to an end, Aileen shattered her grief with the same light in her eyes as the girl holding the frightened cat.
While I tap away at my computer working on the next book in the series, I do it with a bittersweet smile on my face. The characters’ emotions were born from the real pain, anguish, and hope I witness during the daily grind.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shawn Martin lives with my unconventional wife, two amazing sons, and a clowder of cats in Missouri. After graduating from Missouri State University with mostly harmless majors in Economics and Political Science, he took to the road rather than enrolling in law school.
When he finally settled down in 1995, he became a firefighter. Aside from rescuing cats in trees and removing burnt pot roasts from ovens, he spends his time finding the hardest way to do the simplest of things. The rest of his time is spent working on the next book in the Shadowflesh Series.
Death and darkness lurk in the shadows, awakening the flesh and forbidden love. Torn from her home and fighting bouts of suicidal depression, seventeen year old Aileen McCormick lands in the small coastal town of Redcliff, North Carolina. Her first day of school promises to be the worst day of her life when a menacing group of boys target the new girl. Shoved into the arms of arms of Addison Wake, she knows she’ll never be the same. Addison’s otherworldly charm and drop-dead gorgeous face leave her breathless, but only for a moment.
Grim and painful secrets lurk in his dark soul. Addison Wake isn’t exactly like other boys. Far from it. He’s dead and has been for 300 years, locked in an ethereal prison by a lethal enchantress named Donelle. When she hungers, she blesses Addison’s tortured spirit with moments of freedom, allowing him to roam the mortal world as Shadowflesh. But that dark blessing comes at a price. He must deliver the souls of five unsuspecting humans to Donelle. Knowing he’s here only for a short amount of time, Addison refuses to let himself fall in love and break Aileen’s already fractured heart. He pushes her into the arms of another, but destiny throws the two shadowy lovers back together.
In the darkness of her room, Addison confesses his love and his deadly secret to Aileen. When four dead bodies pop up in Redcliff, Aileen asks herself is her love for the mysterious boy unconditional? Is the love worth the risk? And will she be the next victim?