I get asked a lot if Kate is me in my books, and the answer is no. I describe her as if she is me, and there are similarities, but we are not the same person. My real-life story and her made-up story are different.
I also get asked if both books are true. This is kind of a yes and no answer. Both stories are fiction, although parts in both books are similar to what people I know have gone through.
There is a real character in And I Believe named Holly, who is battling cancer. Holly (McEldowney) is a good friend who was diagnosed with colon cancer at the young age of 38. During her battle, she shared many updates on Care Pages which opened my eyes to the hell a person with cancer goes through, and I wanted to relay this message to my readers. To date, Holly has battled cancer two more times.
Being a first-time writer, I found it easier to write about people, surroundings, and events I'm familiar with. Since I have never lived anywhere but Versailles, I picked it to be the town for my book. As far as other characters go, Beth (Didier) Simons has been my best friend since I can remember, so this is why I made Kate's best friend Liz (short for Elizabeth), and I named some of Kate's friends after my friends (Megan, Tina, and Shelly). The bar Creekside and its owner Tony are real, and Tony and I have been friends since I was a junior in high school. In high school, we went to open-air dances like Kate did when she first met Aaron. Versailles used to put on a Relay for Life (cancer relay) every July, similar to what I mention in And I Believe, and the annual Labor Day weekend party at Carl and Linda's cabin is real too. Finally, my sister-in-law, Elaine Bohman, used to work for Hospice, so when I needed a nurse from Hospice, I named this character after her.
Here are a few scenes, so to say, I put in And I Believe that are real. When I was a senior in high school, I would go to the art room during my study hall. The art teacher's name was Mrs. Blinn (I had her as Mrs. Lynn in the book), and in this class, a group of seventh-grade boys (Chad Groff, Ryan Garrison, and Cory Griesdorn) would chat it up with me every day. This is how I came up with the idea for Kate and Matt to meet. I made Matt a freshman, so there was less of an age gap between him and Kate.
A long time ago, I remembered a friend of mine telling stories from high school where he and his buddies tied up one of their friends to the front porch of an old lady's house, rang her doorbell and ran. (I made this a story Barb tells about Matt in the book.) Then, the same guy and another one of his friends picked up a girl in the hallway, put her in a cardboard box, and slid her and the box into study hall. This is how I came up with the idea of Matt and his friend, Chad, putting Kate in a box and shoving her into the hallway.