Sharing support: reaction to my article in the AJC

I’ve been overwhelmed with all the support and kind wishes that Jack and I and our family have received since the publication of my “Personal Journey” article titled Fear and Gratitude in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) Sunday edition of July 10, 2016.



Here are some quotes from the messages, letters, and comments:

“Thank you for sharing your story. My son is your son’s age and was a Terry student at UGA. I can’t imagine how hard this was but so glad things worked out well for him and your family.” 

“…Had me in tears…Congrats…Awesome…Very cool…”

“…so proud of your good writing as I sorrowed along with you, Jack, and the whole family.”

“Your story touched my heart…Kudos…Fabulous article…This is beautiful.”

“…your strength and talent go beyond the pages you write.”

“Excellent article…Amazing journey…Well done! Very moving! Thanks for sharing your experience.””

“…brought tears to my eyes and reassurance that goods thing can happen in this world…Inspiring!  That’s the one word that would describe Julia McDermott’s Personal Journeys’ story of her son, Jack’s, battle and victory over brain cancer.  We’re reminded that our lives can change in a moment and the only way to meet fear and tragedy is through positive action, courage, and faith.”

“…unbelievable…I marvel at your family’s courage and faith through it all!…Don’t we learn in the most unimaginable situations?”

From a friend in my French conversation class: “Quel article dans le journal ce dimanche passé!   Cette histoire est incroyable, une source d’inspiration! Tu es vraiment douée comme écrivaine et comme mère extraordinaire!
Et ton fils est un modèle de courage et de ténacité pour tout le monde.”


From Dr. Allan Friedman of Duke, in an email to me: “You are a gifted writer.  This is a very nice article….Give him my best.”

From UGA President Jere W. Morehead, in a letter to Jack: “I read about your battle with cancer in…the AJC. I was deeply moved by your experience. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to confront such dire circumstances as a student. The strength that you demonstrated to overcome the illness and complete your education is truly inspirational. Your story sends a powerful message of hope and courage to so many, and the University of Georgia is proud to call you an alumnus.”

IF I’ve forgotten to include your message, or if you would like to send one, please post it in the Comments below!


me, Jack 11-6

List Post: octobre 2015

It’s only October 2nd, but I’m going to be so busy this month that if I don’t get this done now, it won’t happen.

  • It’s Promotion month for UNDERWATER: Yesterday through October 31st, you can download my Suspense novel set in my home town of Atlanta for only $1.99! UNDERWATER is an Amazon HALLOWEEN KINDLE BOOK DEAL. Look for it under Mysteries/Suspense — Suspense — Psychological!


  • My trip to Raleigh is fast approaching! I’ll be a “Dark Romance and Dark Smiles” Panelist at Bouchercon next Friday at 10:00 a.m, and the next day I’ll be at the New Author Breakfast bright and early at 7:00 a.m.!
  • Note: even though I’m a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, I once worked in Durham, have visited Duke, and have flown in and out of RDU several times, this will be my very first trip to the state capital of Raleigh. I hear it’s nice. And I feel pretty comfortable in that neck of the woods, anyway.
  • My other appearances this month include the Book and Art Fair in Griffin GA Oct 16-18; book signing with fellow Sister in Crime Hank Phillippi Ryan at FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock GA Oct 21; and book signing at the Marietta Queen of Hearts Antiques & Interiors Oct 24 with authors Valerie Connors & Mike Buchanan. (See News and Events for times and details.)
  • At the end of the month, I’ll be at the Killer Nashville International Writers Conference with some Atlanta Sisters in Crime! My first time at this conference, and my third time ever (I think) in Nashville!
  • November Preview: in between 2 quick trips to Florida (I hope) I’ll appear yet again with some Sisters at the Ansley Book Club Meeting in Atlanta! Details to come.
  • Quoi d’autre? What else? Watching football, of course!

Playing to win

“I remember my dad asking me one time, and it’s something that has always stuck with me: ‘Why not you, Russ?’ You know, why not me? Why not me in the Super Bowl? So in speaking to our football team earlier in the year, I said, ‘Why not us? Why can’t we be there?'”
– 2014 Super Bowl Champion QB Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks

Football has been over for weeks, and college basketball – March Madness – ends tonight. The Tar Heels didn’t make it past the Third Round, but after a phenomenal regular season victory against rival Duke in UNC’s Dean Dome, it almost didn’t matter…especially since Duke was eliminated in the Second Round.

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UNC students in downtown Chapel Hill, celebrating the victory over Duke on February 20, 2014

[Other than wanting UNC to beat them in basketball, I’m fine with Duke; the book I’ve been writing for almost a year now is partially set in Durham.]

Over the last several months (the coldest October through March in over a century, I read), I’ve been busy writing it, and I hope to finish it soon. The hardest part was the middle, which I was working on during the NFL playoffs (and while Atlanta got zapped with at least three bouts of freezing temperatures and/or snow and ice).

Lately though, I’ve been on kind of a writing roll, and I’m nearing the end. But it won’t be done then; working with my editor (and doing revisions) is next. There’s a lot more to do, too, the most fun of which will be to select a cover. Meanwhile, I’ve got the conflicts and characters identified for Book 4 (a suspense novel) and I can’t wait to get started on it.

So – what does any of that have to do with football, or with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson?

In a word: inspiration.

Autrefois, I didn’t like or even understand football. Now, I miss it a ton, and I can’t wait to watch the Falcons play this fall. I watched this year’s Super Bowl, enjoyed the game – and was inspired by the story (and words) of the Seattle quarterback.

Here’s someone who’s worked hard, who might have been considered an underdog, but who didn’t take No for an answer. I’m taking a cue from his words. Why not me?

Why not write fiction (and creative non-fiction)? Why not work full time on my books? Why not be committed to learn, and keep trying to improve my writing? Why not produce the best stories I can, and tell others about them?

Why not go for it?

“Why not you, Russ?”


Encore: “From the Author, and Behind the Scenes”

My friend Rachelle Ayala featured me and MAKE THAT DEUX in her BookChat post of April 9, 2013 in Rachelle’s Window

Two sections in particular offer some insight about why I wrote the novel, and what was going on in my life while I did…

From the Author:

A new world of adventure and romance opened up to me during my junior year of college when I was an exchange student in the south of France. Instead of living with a French family, however, I shared a beach apartment on the Mediterranean Sea with two other American girls, and I left my boyfriend behind in the U.S., unsure of whether our relationship would survive the time apart.

We three girls bought mopeds (mobylettes) to drive to and from our college campus in Montpellier, France, and we spent the year learning French, traveling and doing everything else that college girls do…


The year we shared made a big impact on me, and the three of us have stayed in touch since, even as our lives have taken different turns. When my children began growing up and moving out, I considered my long-held dream to become a writer. I decided to draw on my memories of my experience in France and write a novel set in the time I was there.

I felt that Jenny – with her innocence, naiveté and idealism (and that of her two roommates) – could be a fresh character in a literary world sometimes crowded with cynicism. While not everyone would identify with the girls’ belief in “The One,” many would relate to Jenny’s feelings dealing with a long-distance relationship, especially when other appealing men enter her life.

Through Jenny’s story, I wanted to show that even (and maybe, especially) for young people on the threshold of adulthood…

…love is possible and important, and that it’s okay not to want to “do life” alone, and to want to go through life with – and to love – another.

Behind the Scenes:

Lots of things happened while I wrote the book…

I got lots of feedback on different drafts of the story from my Writers Critique Group, several beta-readers, and some interested literary agents. I took all their advice to heart and revised the novel many, many times. I connected with one of the readers, who turned out to be the most helpful, through the friend of a friend.

Before I finished the novel, though, I took a break from writing/revising because one of my sons, age 19, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in May 2010. He had two surgeries and 5 weeks of radiation therapy and was able to go back to college as a sophomore that fall. His second surgery was performed at Duke University Hospital by the renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Allan H. Friedman.

My son faced his illness with courage, strength and hope, and cheered me on in my writing. He is now cancer-free and involved with raising funds for cancer research at his university, and he will graduate later this year.

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Just before I published MAKE THAT DEUX, I traveled to France to celebrate a milestone anniversary with my husband. 


We did a tour of the south of France, visiting Montpellier and Palavas, where I had studied and lived, as well as other lovely spots, then spent several days in Paris. I was thrilled to go back to visit the place where I had spent my year in France and to show it to him.


When we returned, my mother was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma. She moved in with us and had chemotherapy and radiation last fall, and she shared my excitement about publishing my book. Her cancer responded to treatment and she moved back home (a few miles away). She is now cancer-free.”

photo 2Mom and me at her college reunion in fall 2011

Letting Go of Fear

Life is unpredictable, and sometimes scary.

My family and I usually attend Relay for Life at the University of Georgia with my son, a brain cancer survivor, Relay volunteer and UGA student. One year, greeters gave us purple and white balloons and markers, and asked us to write on them something that we wanted to let go of.

After months of worry and anxiety about lots of post-treatment MRIs – all of which were “clean” – I knew exactly what to write on my balloon:


Later, after the event’s kickoff, we were all asked to let them go:

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At our first UGA Relay event, my son had been cancer-free for only six months. As the final leg of the actual relay to kick off the event, he ran in the torch:


In a few days, we will attend this year’s Relay for Life at UGA. My son got involved with Relay in the fall of 2010, weeks after he recovered from brain surgery at Duke and finished radiation therapy at Emory. He has told his story numerous times and helped raise funds for cancer research, serving on the executive board this year to help with corporate donations.

Just three years ago, I had no idea what was in store for my son and for our family. I’m a worrier by nature, a trait that sometimes went into overdrive while I was raising my children. I worried about things that might happen to them…but I never feared that any of them would get cancer.

Then one day, one of them did.

Before it happened, I began writing my novel, MAKE THAT DEUX. The protagonist, Jenny Miles, is 19 years old, the same age that my son was when he was diagnosed; he learned he had a brain tumor on his 19th birthday in May 2010.

After two surgeries, setbacks, despair, pain, suffering, and recovery, he started back to school as a sophomore at the University of Georgia in August 2010. In October of that year, he learned that he was cancer-free.

I know that at times, he was afraid. But he didn’t let fear overtake him. He lived through his illness with courage, strength and hope, and through his journey, he inspired me to let go of fear.

One of my favorite authors is Charles Dickens. Here’ a quote from his novel David Copperfield:

“We must meet reverses boldly, and not suffer them to frighten us, my dear. We must learn to act the play out. We must live misfortune down, Trot!”

photo copy 3My son’s gold survivor handprint and my purple caregiver one at UGA Relay for Life 2012

A (baker’s) dozen little-known facts – about me

Look for my BOOK TRAILER to be released soon for MAKE THAT DEUX!

While I wait for the finishing touches on it, here’s some trivia about me. My family (and relatives) know most of these faits peu connus (some of which are a bit embarrassante), but the rest of the world may not:

1. When I lived in France for a year as an exchange student, I didn’t (yet) have a driver’s license. But it wasn’t necessary to have one to drive a moped (mobylette). Phew!

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Not my mobylette, but the same color mine was. (Why didn’t I take a picture? Because cameras – and film – were expensive!)

2. Since my birthday is October 20, I was always one of the oldest in my class growing up (when I started 1st grade, you had to be 6 years old by Oct. 1). In 9th grade, I set out to finish high school in 3 years, which I did, tying with another girl for 1st in my class. When I started at UNC, I was 17.

3. I was 2nd-runner-up in my high school beauty pageant (“Miss Tiger”).

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4. I worked at the Carolina Coffee Shop on Franklin Street (and other restaurants) when I was a student in Chapel Hill, and I once waited on Alan Alda. I don’t remember getting a big tip…

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5. I didn’t get my ears pierced until I was 26 years old and pregnant with twins, & I’ve never had another ear piercing (or any other kind).

6. One of my sons is a brain cancer survivor and was operated on by a renowned Duke neurosurgeon.* My son is doing terrific now & is involved in Relay for Life at UGA, which helps raise funds for cancer research.


7. I don’t wear bracelets or turtlenecks (though I used to wear both, but only once in a blue moon).

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As a college freshman, wearing one of the two turtlenecks I remember ever owning.

8. I’m a slow reader, and always struggled to make A’s in English (which I did in high school, but not in college…Oops!)

9. Maybe because I’m very nearsighted (and my parents didn’t realize that until I was 12), I didn’t learn to ride a bicycle until I was 10 years old. I couldn’t see the ground in front of me!

10. I don’t get seasick, but I do get migraines occasionally.

11. My hair is naturally curly, and while my kids were growing up, I experimented with many different hairstyles and lengths.


Me when my third child was a toddler and my twins were in 1st grade

12. I left the promising field of computers and technology in the mid 1980s to stay home and raise my 4 children for 20 years, during which my family moved across the country 4 times.

13. I don’t know how to cook (much)…actually, that’s a well-known fact about me!

 * Dr. Allan H. Friedman, Neurosurgeon-in-Chief, Duke University Hospital; the same doctor who operated on Senator Ted Kennedy several years ago.

“The Funny,” part deux (two)

I’ve never lived in New York, and I’ve never been a nanny – though I had a friend at UNC who was an au pair in France the summer after we both spent our junior year of college there.

But I did raise four children of my own, sans nanny or day care. So when the book THE NANNY DIARIES by Emma Mclaughlin and Nicola Kraus came out 10 years ago, I loved it, not because it was about bringing up someone else’s a child, but because it’s hilarious!



I love to read anything that makes me laugh, and I don’t know why others wouldn’t. I call it “the funny;” it’s a necessary ingredient in some types of fiction and non-fiction. (But not all: the book I’m currently writing is a Thriller, sans badinage, mais c’est une autre histoire…)

Some people have a different sense of humor than mine, and some don’t have one at all. C’est dommage (that’s a shame), à mon avis. For me, being able to laugh with others has been essential, especially during life’s trials.

In my novel MAKE THAT DEUX, Jenny (the protagonist) is 19 turning 20, just a few years younger than Nanny, the au pair in TND.  Like Nanny, she’s dealing with a world very different from the one she’s known: une culture étrangère. Jenny does the best she can, under the circumstances, and (I hope) with a sense of humor. Her story is quite different from Nanny’s, but in a way, Nanny’s story influenced the way I tried to tell Jenny’s: through the eyes of a 20-something young woman who tries to keep her sense of humor while dealing with stress.

Stress isn’t easy, and we all face it now and then, or maybe, continually. Il vaut mieux en rire – it’s better to laugh about it than cry – even if we don’t feel like laughing. But I’ve found that a little levity helps, even in the worst of times.

One of my sons is a brain cancer survivor. He was diagnosed almost 3 years ago, on his 19th birthday. The next 6 months was the most difficult period in our family’s life – and we’ve been through some other serious trials. He underwent two surgeries, one them incredibly scary, and five weeks of radiation therapy. His first “clear” MRI was done that fall, two days before his grandfather, my dad, passed away peacefully at the age of 83.

My son has been cancer-free since then, and when he and I look back at that time, we don’t just remember the shock and fear that we both felt, the tears that we shed. We also recall – and still talk about – the funny things that happened in the midst of it. We thank God – and the talented doctors at Duke – that he survived, and we remember being afraid that he wouldn’t, that he might lose his young life. We weren’t looking for “the funny” then, but somehow we recognized it when we saw it: some of the things that happened made us laugh – out loud. And they still do, today.

Life is precious. Laughter is necessary. My father made me realize that when I was young. His quirky sense of humor was terrific, and he was a great joke-teller.

And he could always find “the funny.”

La Sensibilité et la Thérapie

 The French word sensible means sensitive, not sensible; sensible/sensible and sensibilité/sensibility are examples of faux-amis (literally, “false friends”) — they look alike but mean very different things. On the other hand, thérapie/therapy are vrais-amis (“true friends”), or words spelled alike with the same or similar meanings.* As the year draws to a close, il est naturel to look back, to look ahead, and to reflect…a process that causes my own sensibilité (and my need for la thérapie) to surface.

First, la sensibilitéWhile others seldom accuse me of being too sensible, many feel the need to point out my (over-)sensitive nature. Through the years, I’ve worked hard to reduce the “over-” part, at the same time not wishing to lose the “sensible/sensitive” part, or to slide into insensitivity. I’m an emotional person, and while some in my family are, too, some aren’t. They’re the tough ones, the ones who find it easy easier to compartmentalize, to bypass the drama, to keep cool. To move on, confidently — or at least, to seem to.

By contrast, I’m more likely to live by these words in a song by Joan Armatrading**:

Show some emotion

Put expression in your life

Light up, if you’re feeling happy

But if it’s bad then let those tears roll down

Does emotion, and la sensibilité reside in the heart or the head? Jenny, le personnage principal in my new novel MAKE THAT DEUX, considers this question, and I won’t say what she decides. But two years ago, after an extremely talented neurosurgeon at Duke skillfully removed a tumor in the center of my son’s brain, I read that some doctors believe the area is connected with our ability to make decisions and experience feelings. Miraculously, my son survived his cancer and thrives in college, feeling, thinking and learning (I trust) every day.

Back to my sensitive nature. I take the kindness — and the unkindness — of others to heart (or maybe, head). With loss and tragedy happening all around in this world, perhaps it’s good not to focus on “the little things,” but to be tougher, stronger, more reserved. But sometimes it is the little things: if we really dislike someone, then every little thing they do is annoying. Maybe that’s when it’s time for sensitivity toward others, empathy and understanding.

Which brings me to la thérapie. No, not the kind you’re thinking; other than a massage therapist, a paid professional doesn’t work for me. Reading does, and talking to a close friend (ideally, my best friend, mon mari) works even better. But I find the best therapy to be (creative) writing. I don’t know why it works, but it does, heureusement.

Now back to my Work In Progress (WIP), my second novel…and la thérapie!

Bonne année 2013!

Un puzzle 3D de la Tour Eiffel: la thérapie pour quelqu’un d’autre dans la famille (pas moi; je n’aime pas les puzzles!):

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* For more on faux-amis, see my post “L’esprit de l’escalier, spiral staircases and faux-amis”

** Another Joan Armatrading song is the title of Part 3 of MAKE THAT DEUX. Savez-vous pourquoi?

Les Ados vs. Young (independent) Adults

The French word for teenagers is les adolescents. For short, les ados. No matter what country you live in, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

The years between childhood and adulthood can be difficult, not only for les ados, but also for les parents. (Make that, ARE difficult. Sans doute.)

But they can also be rewarding, and even fun. And then one day they’re over. No more moodiness, drama, or driving lessons. C’est fini.

While my four kids were teenagers (and one still is), I read books about raising teens, novels about teens, and even the books my own teens were reading. Just recently I read Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future by Tim Elmore and Dan Cathy. I found it enlightening if troubling. And then I worried — some more.

But back to my topic: teens vs. Young (independent) Adults, or YiAs, I’ll call them. (A small “i” seems appropriate, and trendy.) YiAs ARE adults, even if young and inexperienced independent. They’re not teens wishing to be adults, with all the independence that adults enjoy. So why do teens read “Young Adult” novels? More important, given that real young adults (and old ones) read them as well, why must the protagonists of YA novels be teens (in high school)?

I wrote my first novel (to be released later this year) not specifically for the “Young Adult” audience, but for readers of any age — it was a story that was “in me” to write. Like Jessica Park, author of Flat-Out Love, I was told by publishing industry professionals that the (college) age of my protagonist (19) was too old for YA, and therefore my book wouldn’t sell. [See her recent terrific blog post, How Amazon Changed My Life]. Well, the professionals were wrong about Jessica’s book. I hope the same will be true for mine.

Ironically, my best beta-reader was a true young, independent adult. In her early twenties, she had spent a year of college in Europe; she related to my characters and gave me a ton of wonderful feedback. She has a “real” job, and though she is close to them, she lives far away from her parents. I’m old enough to be her mom (!), but it’s amazing how much she and I have in common.

If you’re a young adult, you can be independent, but if you’re an ado, alas, you can’t be, yet. (However, at age eighteen you can — almost. But that’s another topic.) Over two years ago, on my son’s nineteenth birthday, I stood by his side at the hospital as a doctor explained that he had a brain tumor. Treated as a legal adult by the medical staff, my son signed the paperwork for emergency surgery that was necessary to save his sight. Later that summer, he had to sign papers authorizing brain surgery at Duke. He survived cancer, something a great many adults never have to face.

That son of mine has changed a lot. I’m grateful he can read whatever he wants to read.

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