Thursday, July 9, 2015

Talking About….


Kayleigh’s Phight

Meeting Kayleigh at the NOLA Author Event.

Kayleigh as her journey to diagnosis begins, and at the bottom, today.


                Writing and publishing books has brought so many wonderful people into my life.  It’s truly my favorite part of the gig.  While some interactions are very brief and mostly done in passing, there are some people I meet who make such an impact that they can’t be forgotten.  Kayleigh’s mother is one of these people.  We met at a signing, became Facebook friends, and kept in touch afterwards.  I remember her writing posts about how scared and uncertain she was because her daughter was having health issues.  She’d have trouble breathing on occasion, even going so far as passing out at school.  The problem was, the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  Test after test came back normal.  Recreating the situations didn’t give answers because she did fine when the doctors asked her to exert herself.  The family was left with a string of questions and no clear answers. 

                Here is part of the story, in Kayleigh’s mother’s own words as to how her “phight” began. (Some sections that detail repeated tests with no answers have been omitted from the passage.)
Kayleigh, one of the many PHaces of PH.


On a Friday in September 2013 (age 7) I got a call from her school that said Kayleigh had passed out. I was there within a few minutes. When I got into the "sick room" at her school she was surrounded by several teachers, the principal and a few others. They were fanning her, had ice on her body, were giving her water and feeding her ice. I cannot tell you how much I love and appreciate the staff at her school. They explained that she had been running during PE, turned extremely pale then fainted. When I got to school she was a little pale but that was it. But I still brought her to the pediatrician's office.

The pediatrician did lab work, a chest xray and had her jump up and down then run all over the hallway trying to recreate the "episode". The lab work showed she was coming down with a virus. They said keep her hydrated and she should be fine.

These "episodes" continued to happen. All of them happened with exercise and none happened at home. We reported each of them to the pediatrician as well as the pedi cardiologist. In March we went back to the pedi cardiologist. He did an Echo, EKG then ordered a 30 day monitor. Again no answers. Again said she needed more exercise. He also said he thought she may be having anxiety attacks when she was exercising and that was causing her to pass out. He sent info to her pediatrician to have her sent for an anxiety check.

By this time I was fed up with feeling as though I was wasting his time and felt defeated.

On July 1st we were on vacation in San Antonio swimming in the hotel's pool. I had been playing with my nephew Brayden, teaching him to go to the bottom and push back up. Brayden and I had been doing this for about 10 minutes when Kayleigh decided she wanted to play too so I started playing with her. In the back if my mind I was thinking "this is good exercise for her". I'd push her to the bottom of the pool then she'd shoot back up like a rocket. After about 2 or 3 times Kayleigh said she needed a rest but I told her no that she needed to keep going, she needed to exercise. We argued back and forth and ended up bobbing into the deep. I could only touch on my tip toes so I continued to bob. Kayleigh, thinking I was going to dunk her, fought me. I lost my touch then but was able to keep her above water by holding her above me. I was convinced she wasn't going to the edge of the pool, she was going to calm down then get more exercise. Once I could touch again I tried to get her to calm down but she continued to fight. Then she screamed that she was going to throw up. I started moving us to the side of the pool but she was still fighting me and we ended up in the deep again. I was able to get us up enough and told Dwain to grab her. As I got her to the edge of the pool she vomited then immediately passed out in it.
Dwain grabbed her from me and pulled her the rest of the way out of the pool, into a sitting position, while I got out. He picked her up and brought her to a lounge chair.
When he put her down she was so pale she was blue, spitting, foaming and convulsing. I told Dwain to call 9-1-1 while I tried to get Kayleigh to talk to me. She couldn't answer any questions I was asking. I asked her questions like What is your name? How old are you? What is our dog's name?...things she should have been able to answer without thinking.
After what felt like hours but was realistically a few minutes Kayleigh began to come around. She got some color back in her face and started answering my questions.
When the firemen and paramedics arrived she was back to herself. She was arguing because she wanted to get back in the pool (answer was a big NO!) and saying she wanted to go to Taco Bell.

The kid scared several years off my life that day!

                So what is PH?  Pulmonary Hypertension is a rare, debilitating disease in which high pressure in the arteries of the lung can cause right heart failure. It can affect all ages, races, and is not gender specific.  Symptoms include shortness of breath; dizziness; fatigue; fainting; dry cough; swelling of hands, legs, abdomen, or ankles; and Raynaud’s phenomenon.  These symptoms are more pronounced as the disease progresses.  There is no cure for PH at this time. (

                I was lucky enough to meet and spend some time with Kayleigh and her family earlier this year at a New Orleans book signing.  I brought a little surprise for Kayleigh, but she in turn surprised me with a PH Awareness package.  One of the things in the package that captured my attention was a little straw the size of a coffee stirrer that was taped to an instruction card.  The instructions were to put the straw into my mouth, pinch my nose, and try to breathe through the tiny straw to simulate the struggle PH patients face during an attack.  As I fought to breathe through that tiny straw, I felt such an overwhelming sense of empathy for the sufferers of this debilitating disease.  It was an eye-opening and sobering look into what Kayleigh, and the other sufferers of PH deal with far too often.
The Straw Test

                If you’re curious to know more about PH the resources are out there.  Often, PH goes undiagnosed or is misdiagnosed for quite some time with certain patients.  In Kayleigh’s case, she was told her issues stemmed from asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and allergies.  None of the medications given to treat these ailments worked, so the testing continued.  If you’d like to keep up with Kayleigh’s progress, I’m posting the link to her page.  PLEASE consider donating to the PH Association.  They are making great advances every day, and one day, maybe there will be that breakthrough that leads to a cure.  One extra fact, purple is the color for PH Awareness!


For more information about PH and/or donate to the cause, please visit:

To keep up with Kayleigh, please visit: Kayleigh’s Phight Facebook Page


(DISCLAIMER: This post is for awareness purposes only.  It is not intended for use as a medical resource or for diagnosis purposes.  Please see a physician or health care provider if you have any questions or concerns about any health issues or concerns you may have.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Talking about.... Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

My book, Yours Always, features two main characters that have survived serious traumas.  One suffers from PTSD while the other does not.  The character who doesn’t have PTSD hides from life because she’s afraid to tempt fate.  Status quo is her motto.  The character with PTSD lives life, but repeatedly gets knocked down as he tries to assimilate back every day life, post-combat.
Some who have read the book embrace it for all its truth: the good, the bad, and the very ugly.  However, the intensity of symptoms that some sufferers experience on a daily basis, and the sadness of some of the events that occur in the story may seem unrealistic or farfetched to some.  Unfortunately, these things are reality.  It happens, and it happens far too often. 
I wrote this story to help educate others, but doing it via a fictional story is sometimes difficult because I don’t want to bog readers down with facts, stats, and explanations.  The book is arranged to where readers first learn about Savannah, and then Fletcher’s story comes about later since hid his affliction from her.  This is common as many are embarrassed by the diagnosis, even though they shouldn’t be. 
The purpose of this post is to enlighten readers who are interested in learning more about this dreadful disorder.  PTSD is slowly garnering attention as a result of the long overdue acceptance of mental illness as less of a negative stigma.  People are getting better educated, and therefore are more understanding of the issues that some victims felt forced to hide for ages.  PTSD is most commonly associated with combat veterans, but can occur in anyone who has experienced a traumatic event or witnessed one.  This includes abuse victims, victims of violent crimes and can affect people of all ages.
Often, sufferers have no clue what is going on with them because the symptoms present themselves in very physical ways.  In other words, a person with PTSD does not have to be thinking of the traumatic event to get very real physical symptoms such as, but not limited to: sudden, rapid heart rate; sweating; extreme nausea; shakiness; headaches; fatigue; feeling faint; irritability; trouble concentrating; an intense feeling that something isn’t right or something bad will happen soon; and even blacking out. 
Many find themselves in doctors’ offices having multitude of tests run because the physical symptoms are so incredibly strong that they assume there has to be a medical issue causing them, but are perplexed when the results come back negative.  Other effects of PTSD can include insomnia; feelings of guilt, shame, or anger; reckless behavior; easily startled or frightened; hopelessness; feeling numb and/or not enjoying things that were once enjoyable; difficulty maintaining relationships; memory problems; inability to experience positive emotions; aggressive behavior; avoidance; and nightmares. (Mayo In some severe cases, a condition develops known as Dissociative Identity Disorder. This involves the development of a split, multiple or splintered personality. Each personality has specific traits personal to them and rarely cross from one personality to another. This condition is a form of protection or coping mechanism for the individual.
The thing with PTSD is that it generally comes in waves and it’s generally due to being exposed to a “trigger.”  The problem is; triggers aren’t always very easy to identify.  Some are quite obvious, i.e. fireworks popping simulating battle sounds and triggering a response.  But let me give you a scenario that might not be as obvious.
Imagine fueling your vehicle at a gas station.  All is right with the world.  You’re on your way to your child’s school play, and are excited to see your precious little first grader sing and dance her heart out.  These are the thoughts in your head as you absentmindedly pump gas into your vehicle.  You don’t even notice the delivery truck pull into the stall next to you.  Out of nowhere you feel like you’re suffocating.  Anxiety attacks you.  Something is very wrong, but you don’t know what it is.  On edge, you scan the parking lot looking for signs of danger, but there is nothing out of the ordinary.  This makes you even more nervous.  You start to tremble, and every instinct is telling you to get away from there-NOW!  Your heart is pounding out of your chest, and you feel sick to your stomach.  Should you call an ambulance?  Are you having a heart attack?  Are you going to collapse right there by your car?  You manage to put the hose back into place, get into your car, and you now begin an internal debate as to whether you are capable of driving.  The delivery truck pulls away, and you continue to sit in your car.  Ever so slowly, the symptoms begin to lessen in intensity.  The urge to vomit is dissipating, but your stomach is still in knots.  The intense fear is being replaced with the urge to cry because you’re not sure you’re going to be able to attend your child’s recital because you’re so shaken up.  What caused this?  Why did those intense emotions hit you like a ton of bricks?  What if I told you it was the smell of the diesel coming from the delivery truck?  Or maybe the sound of the diesel engine?  Or even the vibration felt under your feet as the truck pulled into place?

The thing with PTSD triggers is that they can by anything: a sight, a sound, a taste, a smell, a touch, and they don’t have to be inherently related to the trauma itself.   For example, if someone experiences PTSD due to a past experience of being trapped in an elevator, it would be easy to assume that as long as that person takes the stairs from then on they’d be fine.  Wrong.  Triggers can come from the smell of a certain perfume a person also trapped in the elevator was wearing.  It could come from the smell of sweat from those around.  It could come from flicking florescent lights because the lights in the elevator flicked before it went dark.  Darkness could trigger symptoms.  A harmless bump from someone standing in the grocery store line behind you could be a trigger because you were rammed by other panicked people trying to get out.  A song could trigger it because it was playing in the elevator before the event.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  To make things even more confusing, triggers can be completely unrelated to the event.
            The way it was explained to me is that the brain works to store memories much like people file folders away in filing cabinets.  During trauma, the brain sometimes doesn’t have time or the ability to file these experiences away in the right file, so it crams it into whatever file available.  This might be in the “Brushing Teeth” file, so whenever one goes to brush his/her teeth, the recall of that event occurs because it’s not filed in the right place.  I’m sure you can imagine how frustrating this can be to those who are unsure of their triggers and also understand why people with PTSD often avoid social situations.  Feeling desperate, helpless, jumbled, angry, uncertain, and anxious aren’t things people look forward to experiencing, so avoidance is very common.

THE STATS (Courtesy of and

·         70% of people have experienced a traumatic experience and 20% of those will develop PTSD

·         Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD as men.

·         The number of people with PTSD in America is almost equal to the population of the state of Texas.

·         Of female military personnel who were sexually assaulted in ranks, 71% develop PTSD.

·         In 2009, 245 soldiers committed suicide, and on average, five a day attempt suicide.

·         One in three returning troops are diagnosed with PTSD, but less than 40% will seek help.


                There is hope, however.  PTSD is now becoming less taboo an issue and sufferers don’t have to hide in shame.  Help is available via many resources including, but not limited to counseling, medications, and therapy, especially those provided by organizations such as Wounded Warrior Project.  If you, or anyone you know, has symptoms, issues, or questions about PTSD I strongly encourage you to seek help, ask questions, and try to be supportive of those who suffer.


(Disclaimer:  This post not written as a means for medical diagnosis, and is merely for awareness purposes only.  Please consult with a mental health or medical professional for correct diagnosis and treatment.  Statistics used in this post are from the cited sources as obtained on July 8, 2015.)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Magnolia Blossoms: I LOVE These Characters!

The first thing I tell readers when they ask about my new book, "Magnolia Blossoms," is that it's NOTHING like Green Bayou.  While I thoroughly enjoyed Green Bayou and all of the characters that series encompasses, this new book has sparked an even deeper character connection with me.  I adore these people, and I would love to have them in my life.  So what's so great about them?  Here you go...

I'm going to start with the main character, Magnolia Picasso Berrybush.  The name alone should make readers do the equivalent of a double take.  Magnolia is a thirty-two year old train wreck.  Her parents have over the top personalities, but she prefers to live her life hiding in the shadows.  Her looks are atypical, (I suppose that's the nice way of saying that she's quite homely?) and she's pretty much scared of everything life has to offer.  She does anything and everything she can to avoid it, and by "it," I mean living a real, honest to goodness life.  Fantasies and scripted programs/publications (TV, movies, books, and smut) are her favorite places to hide until the day she finally craves something "real" so badly that she snaps.

She has such little confidence in herself that she figures the only way she can become noteworthy is by doing something infamous (serial killing).  Now before you groan, "I don't want to read a book about a socially inept murderess," know that Magnolia has never been successful at anything she's attempted.  Her thought processes, her feeble attempts to make a go of being The Red Daisy, they are what gently guide her (well, maybe not so gently) into socialization.

The first person to interact with Magnolia is Jace Taylor, a swoon-worthy paramedic who crosses paths with her on a fairly regular basis.  Jace, while his life may seem pretty straight forward and normal, readers will discover that there is something much more complex and meaningful happening with him.  Another male character who helps Magnolia along her journey, even though it begins with his arresting her, is Nick "The Dick" Ferrera.  He earns his nickname honestly, but after getting familiar with Magnolia's story, his icy demeanor begins to thaw.

Probably one of my favorite characters, though incredibly foul-mouthed and cynical, is Honey LeReaux, a hooker who was once highly demanded, but because the years have been unkind to her, she now slums the streets of one of the most depressing neighborhoods in Baton Rouge (real town, fictional neighborhood).  The odds of someone like Magnolia running into someone like Honey in most cases would be nil, but sometimes things just happen, thus putting the right person in your path at the time you need them most.  Magnolia doesn't  need coddling, she needs a harsh dose of reality, and Honey's there to give it to her in spades.  Despite Honey's candid and unconventional approach to being a "fairy godmother," readers learn that there is much more to her character, as well.

There is a supporting cast who bring much to the story.  Sunny and Murray "Big Daddy" Berrybush are seemingly polar opposites, yet they work as a couple.  Even though Murray is a high-priced, widely-mocked attorney, even he doesn't escape the book without learning a life lesson or two.  Smaller scenes don't equate to small impact:  Dan Wan, Porkchop, Mr. Gaines, Diablo, and a host of other characters dot the book with comic relief, cynicism, or cattiness at one point or another.

I sincerely hope that you'll give "Magnolia Blossoms" a read.  I truly love this story, and I hope that you will love it, as well.  It's available in ebook for Kindle and Nook, and as paperback through most retailer outlets such as Barnes and Noble stores.  For South Louisiana retailers, and for additional information on upcoming events, releases, etc, please visit my website,

Kindle Ebook:
Nook Ebook:

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Just Rhonda

One of the most rewarding aspects of writing is meeting fans.  Beyond that, the rewards are multiplied when fans become friends.  This painting is a result of one of those friendships.  It depicts Green Bayou so unbelievably well--the whimsy of Connie and Emily's relationship, the beauty of Greenleaf, the sinister feel of the floating camp, the light-hearted feel of an afternoon gathering on the lawn.  Caroline far exceeded any preconceptions I had of what this painting should look like.  So, how did this painting come about? 

I was scheduled for a book signing/meet and greet event at one of the local library branches and Caroline Simoneaux (owner of Studio C) happened to attend.  She was bubbly and enthusiastic--that's my attempt to sound humble when what I actually mean to say is that she was super excited to meet me--and we hit it off instantly.  I struggle with finding the appropriate words to say when strangers approach me as huge fans of the series.  Though it's incredibly flattering, it's awkward because I see myself as "just Rhonda", and I hardly see where visiting with me is worth getting excited about.  But, it happens, and I'm glad it does!!!  I LOVE meeting people.  Anyway, she gave me her business card, which had a sample of her artwork on it, and I was incredibly impressed with her talent.  I asked if she would do a Green Bayou painting for me, she agreed, and it went from there.

Over the course of it all, Caroline and I began to speak more and more often.  We realized that we had a lot in common and that we got along really well.  One of my favorite days came when she called me to tell me that I came up in conversation for something non-book related, and the person she was talking to asked her how she knew me.  She told me that she completely drew a blank.  I was no longer "Rhonda the author" in her mind; I was "just Rhonda."  That made me so incredibly happy! 

Long story short, even if you're the biggest Green Bayou fan the world has ever seen, I'm just Rhonda.  I'm the farthest a person can get from snooty, arrogant, or any of those other politically correct terms for "She's a total bitch."  I couldn't believe when someone messaged me to say that she saw me in a store, but was afraid to say hello.  I'm actually kind of shy by nature, so if you see me, PLEASE come say, "hi."  I love talking about the stories, I love meeting new people, and regardless of whether we meet just that one time or we become life-long friends, I'm the type of person who will treasure the interaction always. 

Sending you lots of Green Bayou love!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Mossy Oaks, Shadowlawn, and a Little Ghost Named Charlie

Shadowlawn Plantation
     I'm a total history nerd who also loves hearing, researching, and checking out stories of the paranormal.  Many of the plantations that I've been fortunate enough to tour are reportedly haunted, and some carry stories that will make your goosebumps have goosebumps!  I toured one such house a while back, however the ghost who haunts the place decided to stay quiet during my visit, and that was fine with me!
     Recently, I was able to spend time at Shadowlawn Plantation (906 Main Street, Franklin, LA) two weekends in a row.  The first weekend was spent familiarizing myself with what the place had to offer.  I'm always looking for new locations for photo shoots/ cover shoots.  I met with the very lovely and knowledgeable caretaker, Julana Senette, who gave me some incredibly interesting facts about the place.  Of all the things she mentioned, the one that stood out the most was the story of a little boy named Charlie.  Poor Charlie drowned in the Bayou Teche when he was around ten years old, and he's rumored to have remained ever since.  I enjoyed hearing of Charlie's antics, especially of how he loved people in uniform--so much so that he routinely set off alarms to get them to come visit.  Well, Charlie didn't make his presence known that day, but I thoroughly enjoyed taking in all of the beautiful sights the plantation had to offer.
     The next weekend, I can't say for sure it was Charlie, but I did notice some oddities.  For example, as soon as I walked into the room pictured below, it was as if the atmosphere suddenly changed.  I thought it was just me, but my friend noticed it, as well.  I'd been in that room several times before and never felt a thing, so it was a little eerie to all of a sudden have the change.  Also, lights flickered quite a few times and the alarm chirped (a sign that we were welcome in the house).  Not anything huge, but still interesting, nonetheless.  Julana can't say the same.  She hears Charlie all of the time.  He runs up and down the stairs, jiggles doorknobs, moves things, etc.  Despite the mischief, I believe she enjoys his antics--most of the time.
     If you'd like to experience the majesty and mystery that is Shadowlawn, please be on the lookout for the multitude of events that will soon be taking place there.  There are so many wonderful things in the works!  One of which, I'll be leading--a writer's workshop in November!!!  Shadowlawn is also available for weddings and other events.  If you'd like more information, please call (337)828-2092 or write to St. Mary Chapter Louisiana Landmarks Society, P.O. Box 400, Franklin, LA 70538.
     Enjoy the pics!!!
The Parlor
The Dining Room

The Main Staircase

Beautiful and majestic oak.

The Green Bayou Novels nestled neatly on the third shelf from the top.  They are in a building called The Tavern, which is believed to be one of the first buildings ever erected in Franklin.  It wasn't just a tavern, but a boarding place, as well.  It now functions as a gift shop and gallery for visitors.

The main entrance.

This doll totally creeped me out!

The back stairwell.

A peek up the back stairwell.

Beautiful sitting area.

Massive oak tree dripping with Spanish moss.

Beautiful front porch.

Note:  All photos are courtesy of Caroline Simoneaux.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Review Writing 101

So you've just read the most spectacular book EVER and you can't wait to tell the world about it. (Oh, just pulling a random example from mid-air, let's say it's one of The Green Bayou Novels.)  How do you go about doing this?  What if you do something wrong?  What if you don't know where to go to leave your review?  What if no one wants to read your opinion?  Relax!  Review writing can be incredibly simple and believe me, people will read it! 

Leaving a review is the best gift a reader can give an author. (Usually.  There are those pesky one and two stars that are bound to plague even the most talented author.  I'll discuss those later.)  Reviews don't need to be twenty well-versed paragraphs.  Plain and simple, it's just your opinion.  The good thing about opinions--there is no right or wrong.  It's yours and yours alone.  Loved a book that everyone else hated?  Let the world know and be proud of it.  Hate a book that everyone else loves?  Let that be known as well, but be gentle.  There's a human behind every written word and most are more fragile than you would think.  Regardless of whether your review is positive or negative, a good rule to follow is to write the review as if you were telling it to the author's face. (Remember that.  I'll be talking about it more in the negative review section.)

Here are some guidelines for positive reviews:  What initially drew you to the book?  Was the dialogue smooth and engaging?  Did you enjoy/establish a relationship with the characters?  Which character was your favorite?  Which character was your least favorite? Were there issues with editing/formatting/grammar/etc.?  Did you learn anything from the story?  Did the author pull any emotions from you?  What made this book unique?  Did anything in the work stand out to you?  Will you read future work of the author?  Are there other books similar to this work that you enjoyed? (Some readers will take your recommendations if they enjoyed it, as well.)  Some reviewers like to also include information such as the book blurb, a synopsis,  ISBN numbers, character profiles, etc.  Remember that these are just some general guidelines.  You do not have to answer all of the questions.  A very simple, "I really enjoyed this book." will often suffice.

Negative Reviews:  Bleck!  No author EVER enjoys them and in the age of anonymity and keyboard bullies, negative reviews run rampant.  Remember that part when I said to write your review as though you were saying it to the author's face.  This is where that part is most important.  There is nothing wrong with not enjoying a book.  It happens all of the time.  My sister and I often disagree about books.  We went to the same schools, were raised the same way, have similar lives; but very different tastes in movies, books, etc.  That's just life.  If you come across a book that just isn't your thing, here are some guidelines for writing your review.  Don't be that person who tries to get attention by writing the meanest comments.  Don't bash the author's personality, perceived IQ, family, looks, or assumed mental state.  Do clearly state why the said book didn't appeal to you, (i.e. I generally look for books with more action.  I prefer books with more romance.  I prefer more in-depth reads as opposed to quick, fun reads.  I prefer quick, fun reads as opposed to such in-depth reads.)  Do not say things like, I'd rather read the back of a cereal box.  (Yes, I got this as a review.  It's so funny.  Ha! Ha!  Now, how did that help me grow as an author?)  I sincerely doubt that person would have said that if we were face to face.  So why is it acceptable if he/she is hiding behind a computer screen?  Negative comments should be seen as a way to help the author with future projects.  Constructive criticism goes a long way and is much more helpful than a cruel comment.

Where to leave reviews:  Most places that you purchase your book from have the option for you to leave reviews.  Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Goodreads, and Shelfari are a few places you can leave them.  The reviews do not have to have your name, and in cases like Barnes and Noble, all you need is an account to leave a review.  You don't have to actually purchase the book from them to leave your review.  This is good and bad.  Good because let's say you borrowed the book from the library.  You're able to leave your review for people who are interested in purchasing the story.  It's bad because people who haven't even picked up the book get to leave false reviews.  You would think people would have better things to do than to torment authors, but unfortunately, some do not.

So, long story short...  Please leave a review after each book you read because your opinion is important!  Be honest, yet kind.  A long review doesn't equal a good review.  Write your review as though you were standing right in front of the author. 

Remember these simple steps and you'll be well on your way to becoming a master reviewer and the highlight of many authors' day!  Mwah!!