How Much of You Goes Into Your Characters?

By PJ Trebelhorn

Up The Ante 300 DPI


What author hasn’t heard this question before? Usually, the answer is there’s a little bit of me in every character I write. That’s been fairly true of me, until now. In my new release, Up the Ante, there’s a lot of me in Jordan Stryker. A lot.

First of all, there’s poker. I love poker. I’m not really good at it, but I love playing. I’ve played in a couple of tournaments at local casinos, but never finished higher than 36th. It was however, my love of poker that led me to write this story. It soon became much more than a story about a poker player though.

When I first started thinking about Jordan and Ashley, the only thing I knew for sure was that they had both been in law enforcement, and they’d had an affair several years earlier. As I began writing,   it soon became clear to me that Jordan had Multiple Sclerosis. She was diagnosed with the disease at the age of forty, just as I had been. Forty is fairly old to get this diagnosis, as it’s usually found when someone is in their twenties or thirties.

I don’t take Jordan through the process of being diagnosed, mainly because it’s a long process. When she finds out she has MS, Jordan resigns from her job as an FBI agent to pursue a career as a professional poker player. Sadly, I was never an FBI agent, nor do I have the confidence or skill level to play poker professionally.

It’s not an easy diagnosis. I went through months of testing—MRIs, Cat scans, nerve tests, and even a spinal tap. That one was fun, let me tell you. Because I was diagnosed at 40, I also had to have diagnostic testing to determine if I’d had a heart attack, or even a mini stroke. Basically, they rule out everything else it might be before coming to the conclusion it’s MS.

It’s a scary diagnosis. The only reference I had of the disease was the wife of a man I worked for a few years before. I don’t know how long she’d been living with MS when I first met her, but she was confined to a wheelchair. She had a nurse to care for her while her husband was working, because she couldn’t do anything for herself. And that was the first thing I thought of when the neurologist finally gave me my diagnosis. There’s no cure, and really, there’s very little research done on the disease because not enough people have it to justify the resources it would take. That makes it what they call an “orphan” disease. They don’t even know what causes MS.

A lot of Jordan’s fears are my fears as well. If I’d been single, I have no doubt I would have kept people from getting too close to me. And I also wonder sometimes if I’ve been given the wrong diagnosis. But inevitably I’ll have a relapse, and then those doubts go out the window.

As it was, I’d been nine years into a relationship when I got my diagnosis. Cheryl assured me she wasn’t going anywhere, and this year we’ll celebrate nineteen years together, as well as our first wedding anniversary. She really is my rock.

I never intended to write a character with MS. It just wasn’t something I ever thought about doing. Now that it’s done, I’m glad I didn’t walk away from it when I realized Jordan had the disease. It was difficult at times to write the character because so much of her was personal to me. But in the end, because Jordan hit so close to home, she’s become one of my favorite characters. I’m hoping you’ll like her too.

Up The Ante 300 DPI

21 Responses to “How Much of You Goes Into Your Characters?”

  1. 1 kejaeck January 22, 2015 at 8:51 AM

    So glad you are able to write from personal experience ablut having this disease. Awesome blog; can’t wait to read the book!


  2. 3 francimcmahon January 22, 2015 at 10:26 AM

    Your blog reminds me of how deep our writing goes when it rises from personal knowledge. Up the Ante has two major aspects, your MS and your poker to inform your book, so I’m looking forward to reading it.


  3. 4 Alyssa January 22, 2015 at 11:59 AM

    The book was awesome! I proof read it for BSB. I’m a big fan of your writing. Can’t wait for the next one!


  4. 6 PJ Trebelhorn January 22, 2015 at 12:01 PM

    Thanks, Franci! I hope you enjoy it


  5. 7 mjwilliamz January 22, 2015 at 12:24 PM

    I can’t wait to read this book. I love the personal aspects of it that you added. You rock!


  6. 9 S.A. January 22, 2015 at 1:03 PM

    Thank you for posting such a personal blog. I’m going to appreciate Jordan’s story all the more since I know it came from the author’s own experience, at least as far as the MS goes. (And who knows; the FBI may not be all it’s cracked up to be and you’re just as well to have missed it. 😉 ) I didn’t realize MS is so under-researched. I recall doing fund raisers for it back in school and just assumed that much was being done. Wishing you and Cheryl the best in your life journeys ahead!


  7. 10 mebuchanan January 22, 2015 at 1:43 PM

    Really enjoyed your blog & the book ROCKS!!!


  8. 11 jfaraday January 22, 2015 at 3:22 PM

    Wow, I really can’t wait to read this. Knowing how much of your own experience went into Jordan’s character is going to make the story all the better for me. Congratulations on 19 years together!


  9. 12 beachwench January 22, 2015 at 8:42 PM

    My wife has MS.. Looking forward to reading your book and seeing some of your struggles/insights. We have been lucky so far with a very slow progression. Mostly fatigue and balance issues. After I read the book I’ll reach out on a more one to one basis to discuss this some more.


  10. 14 PJ Trebelhorn January 22, 2015 at 9:55 PM

    Thank you all for the wonderful comments. I struggled with whether or not to make this blog so personal, but in the end, I’m glad I did.


    • 15 Carol January 23, 2015 at 6:57 AM

      Thank you, PJ! Great blog. I loved the book, and I look forward to reading your next novel and all subsequent ones.
      You and Cheryl take care of each other. Congratulations on your wedding anniversary.


  11. 16 'Nathan Smith January 23, 2015 at 7:53 AM

    Can’t wait to read it. I think it honestly takes bravery to admit when you’ve put yourself into a character, but in the same way that LGBT people finally get to read characters that have pieces of themselves reflected, I think you’ll see that many fellow “orphans” will also love seeing a piece of themself in this book in a different way.


  12. 17 Michelle January 23, 2015 at 9:48 AM

    I think writing about something so personal is very gutsy and can only add to the story. I imagine it was quite a journey for you. I’ve ordered the book an looking forward to reading it.


  13. 18 Devlyn January 23, 2015 at 7:45 PM

    PJ, as you know I am a huge fan and Up the Ante did nothing to deter from that, I loved the story and knowing it is such a personal story to you only enhances the experience. I thought you did a fine job of developing the characters of Jordan and Ashley and integrating the MS factor into the story. I’m so glad you and Cheryl have each other as you deserve the best. Thanks for writing such a personal blog.


  14. 19 Beth January 24, 2015 at 4:53 PM

    Thanks for sharing the personal aspects of this book. I wish you and Cheryl have many, many wonderful years to come.


  15. 20 Karen March 21, 2015 at 10:02 PM

    I loved the book. My girl was diagnosed with MS at 60. Lord knows how long she lived with it before diagnosis. I have her reading UTA right now. Thanks for your story.


  1. 1 Review: Up the Ante | astroclone Trackback on February 4, 2015 at 1:57 PM

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