Debra: Hello, Arlene. It’s a pleasure to have you here for an interview. First of all, could you tell us about yourself and bring us up to date on your life today?
Arlene: Hi, Debra. It’s great to talk with you again. I must say life is interesting at this point. I live on three-and-a-half acres of farmland in SC with my five pet goats – Paxton, JaeJay, Rupert, Patches, and Frosty. Each have amazing personalities, make me laugh daily, and are so very loveable. I also have two pet Labradors, Holly and Bruno, who are my security system, my bed warmers, and my cuddlebugs. Besides mowing, gardening, housework, and fixing the goat pen when the kids decide to play Houdini, I am also Editor-in-Chief for Master Koda Select Publishing as well as do private editing.
Debra: Arlene, you are a busy woman and I admire you for what you are doing for our men and women in the military. We’ll get back to that in this interview. For now, however, how was your early childhood before the accident?
Arlene: Prior to my accident at age six, I was a typical happy kid of the 50s where family, school, and church came first. Dad worked while Mom cooked and cleaned. I lived in a safe neighborhood where everyone knew their neighbor, and it was not unusual to see them all getting together for cookouts or coffee.
Debra: Broken Spokes addresses your life after the accident?
Arlene: Broken Spokes deals with the impact negative messages can have after a childhood accident. These messages carry through into adulthood and can affect every part of life.
Debra: What do you remember most from your experience as a child, in relation to your emotional state?
Arlene: I remember being afraid all the time; afraid of making others feel sad. Somehow I felt responsible for other’s happiness. I experienced such guilt over taking up so much of Mom and Dad’s time for the 18 months I was hospitalized and the year after on crutches. I felt I never fit in, and was teased by other children because I was different.
Debra: Looking back, how did this experience influence you as a young adult? That is, once the main surgeries were done, how did it make you feel as a person, and more importantly, a human being?
Arlene: Thankfully there were no surgeries; just 18 months in braces in a hospital called Newington Crippled Children’s Home. That name alone had a negative connotation. As I said, I never felt that I fit anywhere. I always had a low self esteem and a very poor self image. Because of this, I believe I became an over-achiever. In other words, don’t tell me I can’t do something because I will just to prove you wrong. I bought a horse when I was 18 and appeared on the rodeo circuit. I danced extremely heavy choreography in Jesus Christ Superstar and even auditioned on Broadway. I became Crew Chief for a hot air balloon company, played softball, and women’s Dek Hockey. All these activities were dangerous, especially after I had my first total hip replacement, but that never stopped me. I was determined to prove to everyone that yes…I can!
Debra: Childhood experiences impact us for the rest of our lives. How has this impacted your life physically now?
Arlene: Every single step I take now is a reminder of my stupidity of my younger years. The pain is very severe and I will be having my fifth total hip replacement within the next year. I finally have the life I want, yet it’s so difficult to keep up physically with the demands of the house, property, and animals. If only I hadn’t tried so hard to prove how strong or daring I was, my hip may have lasted longer. Most have one hip replacement in their 50’s or 60’s. I am on number five already.
Debra: How has your accident impacted you emotionally now?
Arlene: I find myself very self conscious of my limp, of my inability to walk very far, to exercise much, or lift items I could even up to four years ago. I now live in fear of my hip fracturing and in panic knowing I need surgery once again. Emotionally I feel I have failed myself, due to a lack of common sense and trying so hard not only to fit in, but to over achieve.
Debra: Arlene, if I may, may I ask you about your late husband? How did you meet, court and fall in love? Did your injuries play any part in your developing relationship?
Arlene: Pat and I met when we were both Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Counselors. He was divorced and had 4 daughters. Pat was much older than I and many frowned on the relationship, but when you know… you just know. I was due for another hip replacement and refused to marry Pat until after I recovered. Finally in 1979, we were married.
Debra: You were widowed early. Did your past help you to cope with your devastating loss or hinder it?
Arlene: I lived in denial of Pat’s death for a very long time, and due to the childhood messages, I could not cry. I was warned not to cry after my accident because it would upset my parents, my grandmother, my brother…everyone. These well intentioned messages, trying to make me be strong, had the reverse affect. I became emotionally cast in stone. Because of my hip injury, it was suggested that I may not be able to conceive and that it may put a strain in my leg. I didn’t care. Most of all, I wanted one opportunity to give Pat a son. I knew it was risky, but what in life isn’t? Even though I ended up with an emergency caesarian section, Tanner entered the world kicking and screaming, destined to be someone. The tears in Pat’s eyes were worth any risk I may have taken physically. Unfortunately, Pat died when his only son was 4 ½ years old. I’ve done my best to keep Pat’s memory alive.
Debra: When did you start writing and what prompted you to write Broken Spokes?
Arlene: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember and was first published in an anthology called Our Forgotten Graces back in 1985 – the year my husband died. Broken Spokes was written in the hopes of sparing one person the pain of living with childhood messages, and to let those who still heard them in their heads know that they were not alone. With time and determination, the negatives can be reversed.
Debra: What is Broken Spokes?
Broken Spokes is the story of my life. The title refers to broken bones, broken bike, and broken spirit. It speaks of the negative messages, although unintentional during childhood, which contributed to many of my insecurities today. It is also the tale of how a blind Labrador named Little Bit helped me find my emotional balance in life.
Debra: Arlene, the cover of your book is, to me, iconic and so appropriate for your message. A special friend created it for you. Can you tell us about it?
Arlene: Linda Danek of WI and I used to belong to a writing group years ago. She had sent me some pictures of her dog, and hanging on the wall was an incredible portrait of wolves. When I commented on it, she said her husband Frank drew it. I knew then that I wanted him to design my cover and do my illustrations. He is an amazing talent! I sent him the chapter that I wanted the cover to portray and he returned more than I expected. I fell in love with the cover the first time I saw the proof.
Debra: Arlene, Broken Spokes just hit #1 in many categories on Amazon. How does that make you feel?
Arlene: Knowing that more people will read Broken Spokes is important to me. It was never about the money, just the message it brings. Of course I’m ecstatic finally being considered an Amazon Best Seller and ranking #1 in every category listed. However, if my book touches one more person because of this, I will be thrilled!
Debra: I know that you have another book in the works. Can you tell us about it?
Arlene: Debra, my next book is the story of my son’s life in the Army…told through my eyes, using my experiences and emotions. Parts of this book are contained in Broken Spokes, and I guess that’s what inspired me to write the story of Tanner’s career.
Debra: Arlene, this sounds like an extremely noble endeavor. I know that it is inspired by your son. Could you share with us his story and how he inspired you to write your upcoming book?
Arlene: Tanner has been in the military for almost 13 years now and deployed five times to active war zones. I plan to detail every step he took from Basic Training to multiple deployments, and help readers learn where to go for support, what they can do to help their soldier, and what to expect emotionally. It is my hope that this book will assist parents and all involved with those in the service to understand better what to happens when your loved one announces, “I’m gonna be a Soldier.”
Debra: There is also another special male in your life. Would you like to tell us about Little Bit and how he has affected your life and your writing?
Arlene: Little Bit came into this world in the middle of a snowstorm on January 4 1995 – not breathing. This runt of a pup tugged at my heart and puppy CPR allowed him to take his first breath. At that moment, he was mine. His mom, Pepper, had 12 other healthy puppies, but Little Bit had his problems: seizures at 3 weeks old and totally blind by 9 months old. Most would have given up and euthanized him, but I knew there was something special about this handicapped puppy and refused to let him die. Little Bit grew to be a 100 pound bundle of absolute love. He represented Friends of Berlin Animal Control for years as their mascot at fund raisers and also became a Therapy Dog for the State of CT, visiting nursing homes, and locked wards for juveniles, as well as drug and alcohol addicts. He wasn’t just a dog. Little Bit, through his handicap, taught me how to deal with my emotional insecurities and showed me “balance” in my life. He was also my rock while Tanner was deployed. A great part of me died with him on August 31, 2007, yet I will be forever grateful for the 12 ½ years we were together.
Debra: Arlene, I have enjoyed this interview very much. I hope you will come back when your next book is published so that we can keep abreast of what is going on in your life as well as your career.
Arlene: Debra, thank you so much for having me. I hope that those still living with negative messages from childhood will be inspired and know they can be overcome. My next book will be out as soon as I can carve out enough time to assemble my notes and I promise to return!
An author, editor, and proofreader, Arlene R. O’Neil may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Arlene’s eBook Broken Spokes can be found here: http://goo.gl/7Zz4Qb
Broken Spokes is also in paperback.