Monsters & Magic – How I Found Inspiration in Real Life

Photo by Cassi Josh on Unsplash

Like most writers, I started as a voracious reader, losing myself as a child in the beauty and magic of fictional worlds. I saw myself as a dreamer and a poet, but not once did I ever consider becoming an author. 

I wanted to be a radio DJ, an attorney, a therapist, or the proprietor of a Christmas tree farm. More than anything, I wanted to be a wife and mother. But somewhere along the path to adulthood, I stopped asking myself what I wanted to be and began focusing on what I wanted to have. A distinction I didn’t grasp at the time.

By my mid-thirties, I was a wife and mother with a successful career and a beautiful home. I was happy. I had all the things I’d ever hoped for, but something was missing. The sense of fulfillment that having all these things would provide was as lie. Was I being too greedy for wanting something more?

Maybe I was bored, or perhaps I was just an ungrateful monster.

I threw myself into new hobbies; camping, kayaking, refinishing furniture, and interior design. I took wine appreciation, soap making, painting, and floral design classes. I also volunteered endless hours to the organizations that my children were involved in and still couldn’t find my complete self in any of it.

Fiction, in all forms, books, movies, Netflix binges, became my escape once again. 

I’d just finished devouring the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer and was experiencing that post-fantasy let down. The feeling that comes after you finish a good book or the final season of a TV show when you’re forced back into the real world where magic and monsters don’t exist. And it got me thinking, what if they did?

Over the weeks that followed, I mulled over the things that I’d seen and experienced in real life and realized that my life was, in fact, full of magic. 

The universe had brought my husband and I together, after all – my soul’s mate, if you believe in that sort of thing, which I do. For me, the love and connection that we share are truly magical.

When we got pregnant, we were thrilled, and I was so confident about it all. I read all the books and thought I knew all the things, but bringing our son into the world wasn’t the magical experience I’d been expecting. 

I was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia two and a half months before my due date. My son and I survived thanks to the miracles of modern medicine.

I’ve been fortunate to experience the surreal joy of watching him thrive, despite his premature and challenging start in life. While he still enjoys challenging his parents, he’s a happy, healthy young adult living his best life. A magical outcome we prayed and dared to hope for during that first difficult year of his life.

My husband and son in the NICU. Photo by J. Ember Hintz.

There were plenty of monsters in my life, as well. I struggled with internal insecurities. Parenting was hard, much harder than I ever imagined it would be. I had no idea what I was doing and worried every day that I was screwing it up. 

I suffered from postpartum depression after my second child’s birth and was, yet again, saved by modern medicine—this time in the form of a magical prescription that helped quiet the monstrous thoughts inside my head.

My husband and I trudged our way through the pressures of adult responsibilities and raising a family. We fought tooth and nail to overcome the toll that toxic people and toxic work environments had on our marriage and our ability to be good parents. Family therapy saved our relationship and helped us eradicate some of our inner demons and became yet another magical milestone for us.

A few years later, our lives were forever scarred by a real-life, flesh, and blood monster in human form. Even today, more than a decade later, it’s still a painful story to tell. 

My husband and I had the honor of being mentored in college by one of our sociology professors, Dr. Debra S. Kelly. Debra dedicated her career to awakening young minds and bringing light to the role of women in crime, both as victims and criminals. She even co-authored a book with another of our professors, James F. Hodgson, Sexual Violence: Policies, Practices, and Challenges in the United States and Canada

Debra became more than a professor and mentor to me, she was also a dear friend. We kept in touch after graduation. Her daughter, Emma, who my husband and I frequently babysat during our college days, was the flower girl at our wedding.

Debra and I talked about our children, relationships, and careers. She rejoiced in my successes and encouraged me through my defeats. Debra challenged me to be the best version of myself personally and professionally. Aside from my parents, she was one of the most influential people in my life.

I loved Debra dearly, and it shattered my world when she and her family were brutally murdered in her home by a real-life flesh and blood monster. I still remember picking up the Sunday paper at a 7-11 and falling apart next to the doughnut case after reading the headline. 

Emma Neiderbrock at my wedding. Photo by J.Ember Hintz
Debra S. Kelly Photo by Andrea L. Parrish

Years later, after reading Stephenie Meyer’s tale of bloodthirsty monsters, unconditional love, and difficult childbirth, I was finally able to recognize the magical and monstrous events deeply rooted in my own story.

That’s when my passion for writing about magic and monsters began.

I finally knew what I wanted to be, a storyteller.


For anyone interested in learning about the tragic death of Debra S. Kelly that made national headlines, I recommend starting with this article from the Richmond Times Dispatch. Warning – Graphic Content.

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