Scarred Not Broken

If you’ve read my books, you know I love a scarred character. Sometimes the scars are on their body. Sometimes in their hearts. For a long time, I called my characters “broken.” Until last year, my author tag line was “even the broken deserve a happily ever after.”

But they’re not broken. Damaged, yes, but strong. Resilient.  

However, my characters often see themselves as ruined beings. Seth in Honor Reclaimed wonders how anyone could love someone as damaged as him. Mara in Broken Honor comes from a troubled home and collects broken things: a three-legged dog, a one-eyed cat, a watch that doesn’t tick, and of course, Quinn, whose traumatic brain injury screws with his memory. And then there’s Bree Ives in Northern Escape. She’s completely withdrawn from society due to her scars

Do you wonder why I write these kinds of characters? I didn’t know why myself until recently.

Because they are me. I am them.

I’m scarred, too.

When I was 9 years old, I was diagnosed with generalized morphea, a.k.a. localized scleroderma. The same disease I gave to Bree in Northern Escape.

What is Morphea?

Morphea (mor-fee-ah) is a rare autoimmune disease that affects only 3 out of every 100,000 people. The cause is unknown, but is thought to be an abnormal immune response triggered by infection, trauma, or possibly chemical exposure. A family history of autoimmune diseases may also make you more susceptible. Morphea causes skin to harden and discolor and can lead to deformities of the underlying tissue and bone. It’s most common in white women and usually appears in childhood but can also occur in the mid-40s to 50s. It is non-fatal but can lead to issues with self-esteem, joint and movement problems, hair loss, and eye damage.

In my case, nobody knew what was going on when the spots first appeared. I returned from a weekend visit at my dad’s house with what my mom first thought was dirt on my neck. When washing it off failed, she asked if Dad and I had been wrestling or anything that would cause my neck to bruise. When I told her no, she started to get concerned and took me to the doctor. My pediatrician was at a loss and sent me to a dermatologist. The local dermatologist sent me to a children’s hospital two hours away, where I was poked and prodded and studied by all the new residents in their white lab coats. Finally, a skin biopsy confirmed morphea.

Most of my neck is covered. (Pictured right.) I also have a spot on my lower back over my tailbone and a tiny patch over my lip. Morphea has a 5-ish year active cycle where it looks like bruises—purple, gray, and white splotches—then it burns out and leaves brownish gray scars. My lesions burned out in high school, leaving the dark brown-gray scars I have today.

Being different during your formative years sucks. Kids can be cruel. I was called names. I was asked why I never wash my neck. For a long time, I attempted to cover my scars with makeup, which didn’t usually work. Or, if it did work, it took a metric ton of expensive makeup I couldn’t afford. I even tried laser surgery to lighten the patches. It hurt and didn’t work. Explaining my scars to new people gets exhausting and, for that reason, I didn’t really date until college. I hated the look guys gave me when I told them I have a skin disease. Somewhere between “eww, she’s a leper” and “eww, can I catch it?”

As I aged, I grew to accept my scars. At least, I thought I had— until a new lesion appeared on my left cheek in 2019. And once again, at 30-some years old, I was the weird kid with the gray skin. That kid and her insecurities never left. She was always buried inside, waiting for a trigger.

I wrote Bree in Northern Escape to deal with the reoccurrence of my morphea. I gave her a version called linear morphea or en coup de sabre (pictured left) which appears on the face and causes the skull underneath the morphea lesion to indent. When my new spot appeared on my face, the possibility of this version of the disease terrified me. So, of course, I wrote about it.

I gave Bree my trauma, my insecurities. The cruel nicknames she’s called in the book? Yup. I was called a lot of them, too.

But I also made her strong and tough. Stronger than I’ve ever been. And as tough as I wish I could be.

I gave her a happily ever after with a man who comes to love her for who she is, not what she looks like. Because heroines who look different deserve happiness just as much as the “perfect” heroine. Both in fiction and in real life.

Brielle Ives is me. I am her.

We’re scarred, but not broken.

Brielle Ives prefers dogs to people, and who could blame her? Her sled dogs are loyal to a fault, trust her implicitly, and couldn’t care less about the scars that mar her face. The only human who’s never disappointed her is her mentor, Dr. William Hunter. When his plane goes missing in the remote Alaskan wilderness, Bree will do anything to find him . . . even if it means turning to a frustrating, irresponsible, and too-sexy-for-his-own-good California boy for help.

When Ellis Hunter enlisted in the Army at eighteen, he put Alaska—and his womanizing drunk of a father—in his rearview mirror. He promised himself he’d never return, but even he can’t resist Bree’s panicked plea for help. If she’s hell-bent on trekking into the bush to find his father, then he’s determined to go with her. But Ellis isn’t the only one shadowing Bree’s rescue attempt…

When the search for answers leaves Ellis and Bree trapped together in the wilds of Alaska, they’ll have to put aside their differences—and an attraction hot enough to melt glaciers—to survive the elements. Because someone dangerous lurks in that icy wilderness—a killer desperate to keep Dr. William Hunter’s secrets buried deep in the snow.