Today is the release day of my book Somewhere Only We Know, which I’ve been calling my “top secret YA book” for a few months now. I’d like to share the story of why this book is so special to me and elaborate on why it’s dedicated to my friend Shawn and released today, on his birthday.
It was May 2011 and I was hanging out at Shawn’s house, spending the day in his swimming pool. Shawn was my little sister’s best friend and his family was close with my own family. They’re a motocross family. They are the coolest people to hang out with – they cook amazing food, they have a pool AND a dirt bike track in the back yard. Shawn is one of the greatest kids I’ve ever known. I love him like a brother and at the time, I didn’t know what I’d do if he didn’t take such good care of my incredibly wild and crazy little sister. It was Shawn who drove her drunk ass home after parties. It was Shawn who texted me at 2am to let me know they got home safely. It was Shawn who had my sister’s back every single time she needed it, and we all knew he was just a phone call away when we needed him.
|Shawn and my little sis Katie, 2010
They were best friends.
Shawn is special in a way that very few people today are: he has a good heart and was raised to be a gentleman. He doesn’t do anything for personal gain. He doesn’t talk make fun of people or slack off or act like a typical twenty year old punk. He’s the kindest person you will ever meet.
He also had a terrible memory. Shawn had suffered from brain swelling as a baby and as a result, he had a crappy memory at times. He was pretty badass at everything he did, like racing dirt bikes, so you wouldn’t really know it unless you were close with him.
So, like I said. It was May 2011 and we were all hanging out at the pool. My kid had just learned how to dive off the diving board with Shawn’s help and Katie and her girlfriend were poolside, working on their tan.
Shawn was surrounded by us girls and we kept yapping about girly things all day long. “Why are you so
|Shawn and his sister Melissa
quiet all the time?” I teased him, like I always did. He shrugged. “Come on,” I prodded. “You never talk. You should talk, I’m getting tired of Katie’s voice.” That’s when Shawn looked at me and said, “I’m too afraid I’ll say something stupid. I’d rather just not say anything than say something that’ll make me look stupid.”
I told him he wasn’t stupid. He disagreed. We’d had this talk before. He hated that he was “different” from other people because of his memory problems. “You should write a book about a place where no one has brain problems and everyone is normal.”
As a writer, I’m always having friends tell me what I “should write a book about”. I don’t really remember what I told Shawn that day, but I shrugged it off, agreeing that life would be pretty great if no one had brain problems.
Four days later I had a voice mail from my sister. “Shawn wrecked his dirt bike. Life Flight took him to the hospital. Come quick.”
Shawn was in a coma for 21 days.
Katie and I drove to Houston nearly every day to hang out with his family in the STICU waiting room, hoping for a good report, hoping to maybe get to see Shawn for a few minutes. It was during a moment of absolute broken-hearted pain and worry, when I felt like I couldn’t sit in those fucking waiting room chairs any longer not knowing if Shawn would wake up, if he would be okay, if he would survive, that Isola Fiona came to me.
The idea of a perfect world where people are made perfect and whole. A place where we could go to be free from “brain problems”. A place that Shawn would love to go. I dug through my purse and found a notebook and began writing Somewhere Only We Know.
After suffering a broken femur, a dislocated hip, high ICP levels, brain swelling, a seizure, a stroke, a fever.. After brain surgery and losing a piece of his skull… After having a rod put in his leg… After long hours in uncomfortable waiting room chairs, countless tears, and millions of prayers, Shawn woke up. But the fight wasn’t over. He had to have half of his skull removed and replaced with an acrylic plate…twice. He had intensive physical and mental therapy. He learned to walk and talk again but he will never be the same. His brain has been damaged so badly that he doesn’t remember things only a few minutes after you’ve told him.
Shawn still laughs and makes jokes. Deep down, he’s still Shawn. But he’s not the same and he never will be. He’ll need someone to look after him for the rest of his life. His vision sucks now because of the stroke. So I know he’ll never get to read my book. This is why it took me over 2 years to finish writing the thing. At times I hated it. At times I wanted to keep writing and create a story Shawn would be proud of.
|My kid at a fundraiser for Shawn
My friend Susan helped me work though various plot ideas until I had something solid. Nikki Godwin told me when my first draft sucked and I knew she was right, so I tossed it out and wrote it again. And again. And again. My tiny daughter sure seemed big when she’d yell at me for looking at Twitter instead of writing. “DO IT MOM,” she’d say. “WRITE THE FIREFLIES FOR SHAWN. STOP PLAYING ONLINE!!!”
So yeah, it took me a long time to write this thing. But I finally finished something I’m proud of, something I know Shawn would like, something I just had to keep a secret for myself until I released it into the wild.
That’s the story behind Somewhere Only We Know. I hope you guys like it.