The Story Behind the Story: Laurie L.C. Lewis “The Dragons of Alsace Farm”

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“The Dragons of Alsace Farm” by Laurie L.C. Lewis touches on many different themes as it explores the lives that come together on a once thriving farm. The one thing that unites all the characters besides the farm itself is their troubled pasts. Even Noah and Tayte, two young people with their whole lives ahead of them, have potent demons that haunt them. The author creates each one carefully, fleshing out their quirks and fears and the reasons behind them.

The action that brings all the players of this complex drama together is the decline of Agnes, a widow whose mind has become unreliable. Alzheimer’s becomes the catalyst for examination and healing. It’s a beautiful, powerful story, intricate and compelling.

It’s my sincere pleasure to share Laurie Lewis’s story behind The Dragons of Alsace Farm:

Cynthia, thank you for inviting me to share “the story behind the story” that became my award-winning novel, The Dragons of Alsace Farm. Like our family, my proposed WWII mystery was also changed by our mother’s diagnosis of dementia. “Dragons,” and in particular, the character Agnes, were inspired by Mom and her last year on her beloved and bedraggled farm.

Visible changes began occurring in Mom after our father passed away in 2000. He had been ill and caring for him had formed the structure and routine of Mom’s day. Most of the farm animals had been sold to ease her work load while she cared for Dad, but what we believed was depression appeared to set in after Dad’s passing, so efforts were made to restore some routine to Mom’s life by purchasing new animals and getting her farm running again to give her a new daily purpose. The plan worked, and for ten years, Mom invested her love and time in her little farm.

I was outlining a WWII mystery about Nazi-stolen art, but progress on the book slowed when our previously happy, healthy mother began getting sick regularly, and exhibited extreme anxiety, needing more of our time and help. Her mood swings were erratic, and her reality became very skewed. She was no longer able to manage her home, the farm, or her money. We also noticed that her hygiene and cooking skills were slipping, like everything else.

Over and over, we took her to her internist, pulling the physician aside to express our concerns that something was amiss. Each time, Mom charmed her doctor, redirecting all questions about her health and routine to other topics with the skill of a railroad switch operator. The doctor brushed our concerns aside and we were dismissed without getting any solid help. As the changes increased, a neurologist finally agreed to test Mom, and the results showed that she was midway on the dementia spectrum. Fear became her new reality. Fear, frustration, and guilt became ours.

After interviews with caregivers, loved ones, and health care providers, we realized that many families are impacted by dementia in some way, but like us, most don’t catch the signs in time to intervene early. I decided to address these issues by modeling my WWII survivor—Agnes—after Mom, and placing her on the dementia spectrum, allowing me to offer readers a glimpse into the symptoms of the disease, and the impact it has on individuals and entire families.

Paranoia is a major component of dementia, and Mom’s paranoia manifested in mistrust and suspicion of her children. Most of our efforts to intervene were countered with anger. Fortunately, soon after Mom’s diagnosis, we found a young couple with mild disabilities who wanted more independence. They moved into Mom’s home for a time, offering farm help and companionship in exchange for rent. Mom believed she was helping them, and they felt they were helping her. As a result, the three of them rose above their limitations to lift and serve one another. The results were glorious for the first few months, and Mom was ecstatically happy, but as the couple’s independence increased, so did Mom’s dependence upon them, until her possessiveness turned into anger. To our dismay, the arrangement eventually fell apart.

Inspired by the early observations of their arrangement, I decided to introduce this dynamic into the book. I turned to two friends/family therapists to help me accurately create Noah and Tayte—characters not mentally impaired, but twenty-somethings whose emotional baggage would impact Agnes much as this young couple had impacted Mom. My mystery had now morphed into a family drama about internal dragons—the fears and secrets we all battle.

It’s been very gratifying to see how people are reacting to the book. Many say it hits close to home. Readers love the characters, especially Agnes, who reminds them of some loved one who has been similarly affected by dementia. They also mention the hopeful, redemptive message in The Dragons of Alsace Farm. I was thrilled by the awards “Dragons” has won—the 2017 RONE Award for Inspirational fiction, Inspirational Fiction Medallions from New Apple Literary and BRAGG, and it was named a finalist for a 2016 Whitney Award.

On a personal note, writing “Dragons” was cathartic and healing. Creating Agnes’s scenes helped me step away from my concerns and see things from Mom’s perspective. Like Tayte, I finally stopped trying to “restore” her, and learned to appreciate her for whom, and where, she is. Like Noah, I recognize that she still remembers what matters most—love.

Laurie Lewis

*** “The Dragons of Alsace Farm” can be downloaded for FREE 4-12-18! Laurie’s latest book, “Love on a Limb” will be also be FREE on 4-13-18! Grab both and enjoy! Click on the last two links below:

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