What is the purpose of fiction, specifically romantic fiction? Escapism? The big “happily ever after”? Finding the dream? The big awwwwww moment? For me, fiction is a journey outside myself that leaves me more enriched than it found me. Sometimes, that happens, sometimes not, but as Donald Maass reminds us in Writing the Breakout Novel, “It is that truth that persuades us to care and convinces us that this story contains the stuff of life.” Most of my books, especially the novels, have a strong basis in reality, in fact. A portion of the events in these stories have happened to me, to my friends, or on the news, but none more than A Heart for Robbie.
Like a really convincing lie – threads of truth interwoven with fictional elements create a rich tapestry of believability – something that could actually happen. A Heart for Robbie is based on something that did actually happen.
The novel is about Julian, a gay YA author who has a baby via surrogate. The baby is born with a debilitating heart defect, throwing Julian’s life into chaos. In 1992, my daughter Kaitlyn was born with the same defect as little Robbie. His story, to the point of the transplant, is her story. The romance with Simon, the books—those passages are purely fiction (well, except having entire conversations with my characters, that is true). I don’t want to give anything away before people have had a chance to read the book, but all of the major events in Robbie’s life happened to Kaitlyn—until the point of the transplant, after that, the story diverges again.
Kaitlyn was born in March 1992 and died that very same August because her transplant wasn’t successful. She was the first pediatric cardiac transplant at Rush Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center here in downtown Chicago. The very first. Which means they learned a lot from her that went on to help other kids, but they couldn’t save her. The autopsy report, which I requested a copy of and read, stated that there was no evidence of rejection in the transplanted heart – which means she died of an infection. It’s funny because they didn’t expect a nineteen-year-old girl to figure that out.
Robbie’s story is an uplifting one, a story of hope, love, and a parent’s desperation to protect his child from all of the world’s failings, including sickness and death.
Celebrated Young Adult author Julian Holmes pits the heroic characters in his Black Heart series against all different kinds of monsters. But when a critical heart defect threatens his son’s life, he finds he has no champion. No amount of books, classes, or practice can prepare Julian for the fight to save his beautiful son’s life.
Suddenly there are hospitals, transplant lists, and the nightmare of insurance red tape to navigate. In the midst of his trouble, Julian meets Simon Phelps, the insurance coordinator for Robbie’s case. Simon lives so deep in the closet he might never find his way out, but he dreams of exactly what Julian has. Then one night, drunken need and desperation brings them together, and a new fight begins.
JULIAN HOLMES’S heart leaped into his throat while nurses scurried around the operating room barking orders at each other and handing complicated-looking equipment to the doctors. So caught up in the joy and excitement of finally becoming a father, he hadn’t realized his son’s life became an emergency. The neonatal intensive care team, who had been standing by as a precaution, surrounded his baby like a human shield so that neither Julian nor Erin could see him.
“Julian? Why isn’t the baby crying?” Erin asked as she tried to fix her glassy-eyed stare on him. Her voice sounded weak and vacant after being in labor for nearly nine hours before the C-section. She reached out, and his stomach clenched as he caught her hand. Desperation and clawing terror ripped the inside of his chest while he surveyed the tumult around them.
“What’s happening?” Julian asked over the cacophony of the roughly organized chaos. His voice came out as a panicked squawk compared to the calm, detached voices of the medical teams. The free fall, the lack of control, prickled sweat on the back of his neck. He hated it with a passion bordering on pain.
Not a single soul turned to look at Julian.
Only the doctor responsible for Erin’s surgery remained next to her bed while he worked diligently to close the incision. The man seemed oblivious to the flurry of activity around him, concentrating solely on his patient. The bright lights of the operating room kept everything around them in sharp, detached focus.
Leaning down, Julian gave Erin a quick kiss on the forehead and looked into her face. They had been best friends for fifteen years, since their junior year of college. She read him so easily—his confusion, his fear, his need to know—and she nodded before squeezing his fingers with almost no strength. Julian laid her hand carefully on her chest and then hurried over to the group of medical professionals surrounding the tiny baby boy on a shiny metallic table. The nurse in front of him moved slightly to her right and revealed the unmoving baby.
Startled by the first clear view of his son, Julian noticed the baby’s skin had a slightly mottled blue tint as he lay listless beneath the bright lights. He couldn’t know that, just a few feet away, his father’s heart broke at the sight of the bag over his face being clutched rhythmically, breathing for him.
Squeeze…. Breathe…. Squeeze…. Breathe….
AUTHOR BIO: Award winning romance novelist, J. P. Barnaby has penned over a dozen books including the Working Boys series, the Little Boy Lost series, In the Absence of Monsters, and Aaron. As a bisexual woman, J.P. is a proud member of the GLBT community both online and in her small town on the outskirts of Chicago. A member of Mensa, she is described as brilliant but troubled, sweet but introverted, and talented but deviant. She spends her days writing software and her nights writing erotica, which is, of course, far more interesting. The spare time that she carves out between her career and her novels is spent reading about the concept of love, which, like some of her characters, she has never quite figured out for herself.
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