Guest Elf Ahearn and Regency hoarding

Today we welcome guest blogger Elf Ahearn, here to talk about her new book, the second in the Albright Sisters Series. Currently at work on the third book, The Duke’s Brother, Elf (and yes, that really is her name) is giving away a download of A Rogue in Sheep’s Clothing (Book I) and Lord Monroe’s Dark Tower (Book II).

roses2Two years of bewildering silence have passed since Claire Albright’s passions were first inflamed by the powerful, brooding, Lord Flavian Monroe. On the brink of her debut in London he suddenly summons her, asking that she use her knowledge of healing to help his ward—a girl who hoards castoffs in memory of her dead brother. Embroiled in a desperate attempt to curb the child’s destructive madness, Claire struggles to understand Flavian’s burning kisses yet cold demeanor. Can she reach his heart before his ward’s insanity undoes Claire’s chance at love?
When he was fourteen, Flavian made a mistake so devastating it ruined all hope for happiness. Years later, he’s still paying for his sin. But before his ward’s troubled mind destroys his home and family, he must see Claire once more. Vowing to keep their relationship professional—she the healer, he the guardian—he finds the bonds of his resolve snapping. Somehow, he must content himself with the love that could have been . . . but he cannot resist . . . one final embrace . . .

Elf CloseupAnd now in Elf’s words, her inspiration for the book:

I find it exceptionally appropriate to introduce my latest novel, Lord Monroe’s Dark Tower, on a blog titled “Risky Regencies,” for its plot is risky indeed.

Naturally, the love story is front and center, but in this book I don’t limit my villain to occasional appearances – she is the hero’s ward – and therefore mingles and interrupts and winds herself around the budding couple’s every action.

My villainess, Abella, is very loosely based on my sister who became a hoarder following the death of my father. My sister is a brilliant, creative woman who ran her own theatre company, which my father supported in every way you can imagine. When he died, I think the floor dropped out beneath her and she just couldn’t cope.

He was a collector of books, maps and Asian antiquities, and our house, which was quite large, was jammed with his stuff. The moment any one of us left for college, he turned our bedroom into a library. By the time he died, we had more than 27,000 volumes in the house—about what a small local library might carry.

My mother invited booksellers from across the country to buy the collection. She emptied the majority of the shelves, but during my father’s last years, he’d taken to purchasing just about anything with pages and a binder. These were the books my sister felt obligated to protect.

In front of her small home by a running stream, under thick pines, my sister stacked about fifty boxes of books then covered them with a black tarp. This makeshift shed was so large the front door couldn’t be seen. The only way to access her house was through a narrow trail banked by teetering boxes. Then she filled the inside of her house with more boxes—boxes of old travel pamphlets, sheafs of the same theatrical flyer and resume shots of actors she’d never auditioned. When she ran out of floor space, she hung possessions from the ceiling.

A nearby theatre company threw out its sets. She brought them all home and built more tarp-covered sheds. Unscrupulous neighbors dumped garbage on her property. The moisture from the stream, trapped by the pine trees, and nurtured in the dense atmosphere in her house caused an outbreak of mold.

Sick from the foul air, my sister could no longer work. With no money she took to “shopping” at the local landfill. More sheds sprouted on her property, more belongings were crammed into her tiny space.

From this wreckage, she planned to start another theatre company. How would she use this string of Halloween lights with some of the owls cracked off? She’d found the other owls—she’d glue the string back together—put on a new plug. It was valuable. We couldn’t throw it out.

Finally, she was diagnosed with a lupus-like disease, and my mother lured her down to Florida for the winter. During their absence, another family member and I cleaned the place up. When she returned, her outrage was absolute. She still suffers from the sting of our betrayal—after all, we took everything of value from her.

What I try to portray in Abella’s character is the strange, impenetrable logic used by people who hoard, but I want to make it clear, her personality is nothing like my sister’s. Abella is a psychopath. My sister is a sweet lady who suffered a mental collapse, but has since gotten herself together, and now leads a successful life.

They say, “Write about what you know.” My hope is that readers will enjoy delving into the mind of someone who hoards, and that the action-packed adventure and steamy love story, will keep them turning the pages.

Hoarding has become increasingly prevalent. I’d like to ask if anyone knows someone who hoards; if they find themselves tending to pack the corners of their own households; or if they dig watching the TV show, Hoarders, which frankly, I find mesmerizing. There’s a free download of both A Rogue in Sheep’s Clothing AND Lord Monroe’s Dark Tower, for the best, most truthful answer.

 

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33 Responses to Guest Elf Ahearn and Regency hoarding

  1. Liz Matis says:

    Wow – what a story – both your fiction and non-fiction one. I’ve never known a hoarder. I do covet by books though. Like, ‘my precious’ covet. LOL

    • Elf Ahearn says:

      Liz, I’m the same way with my books! There’s literally no more room on the shelves. In fact, yesterday I bagged a bunch of them and took them to the Salvation Army. They were all novels I wasn’t going to read again, but the pain of letting them go! Horrible.

  2. Thank you for this revealing blog into your personal life. Grief can damage a person. I’m thrilled to know your sister leads a successful life now. You write of hoarding to the extreme. My husband keeps stuff and is in the process of letting go-cleaning up. Nothing too extreme. Write what you know is always a good plan and leads to widen the imagination.

    • Elf Ahearn says:

      Miss Charmaine,
      Thanks for stopping by! My husband collects, too. He has all of our Christmas cards, all of the letters he’s ever received — stuff like that. Fortunately, his collection doesn’t take up a lot of room, and he keeps things neatly in a file cabinet. So far …

  3. Tanya says:

    That must have been so difficult for everyone involved, especially your sister who felt betrayed! I’m sure your writing was, in a way, a catharsis. Admittedly, not a regency reader, I’d love to read this. This story, given the real life inspiration behind it, has piqued my interest! Congratulations, Elf, on your second novel!

  4. Lauren Smith says:

    What a moving and sad story Elf! The book sounds fantastic and I believe your personal experiences have made it that much more powerful for the readers. I look forward to getting my copy! Thank you for sharing your sister’s tale with us and being brave enough to put it in a novel.

    • Elf Ahearn says:

      Lauren,
      When I sold the book to Crimson Romance, I had to explain to the editor that I did have first-hand experience with hoarding — that the condition wouldn’t just be a plot gimick. I appreicated that kind of care. Hopefully, readers will come away with some understanding of Abella’s pathology and have fun at the same time.

  5. Oh, Doll, what a beautiful and poignant story. Thanks for sharing your experience. You truly are writing what you know, and so beautifully, as always. 🙂

  6. Oh Elf, so sad and hopefully you and your sister can reach some peace. Sounds like a wonderful story and I can’t wait to read it

    • Elf Ahearn says:

      Nancy, not to worry. My sister and I have become very close again. It was a very rough patch for both of us, and I know she still harbors resentment, but as I wrote, she is a sweet lady, she buries her hurt and is always happy to talk.

  7. Jane Diehl says:

    Very interesting hoarding is far more common then we realize good idea to bring it to the story.

    • Elf Ahearn says:

      Thanks Jane. Since it’s a subject close to my heart, and since I’m not sure it’s been touched on before in a Regency novel, I thought, why not try it. Hopefully, readers will find the book exciting and fresh… that’s the goal anyway.

  8. Welcome to the Riskies, Elf, and thanks for sharing your experience. Glad your sister recovered! It’s interesting that hoarding has only recently been identified as an illness but it must have been around for centuries and regarded as an eccentricity. I suspect it’s more noticeable now that people have access to so much stuff–think of all the junk mail you could accumulate in a matter of months if you didn’t throw it out. Or newspapers.

    • Elf Ahearn says:

      It was difficult trying to come up with stuff Abella could collect during the Regency. They were so thrifty back then, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.
      I imagine that the more obvious cases of hoarding would be in weathier homes. A website on hoarders said people with that tendency are extremely intelligent and creative. They often start out with collections that grow out of control.

  9. Ella Quinn says:

    What a fantastic and sad post. I’m so sorry you’re sister is going through this. I’m really looking forward to this new release! Tweeted and shared on FB.

  10. My mother-in-law was a hoarder until we had to move her into an assisted care facility. It took weeks to clear her house, garage, and basement out. She had the garage built for her garage sale finds and it was full to the ceiling. She’d cry if we tried to help her clean things up or clear things out.

    Because we didn’t know what box, bin, or drawer might contain something important or perhaps something sentimental, every single thing had to be gone through. It was beyond awful. We had a few garage sales, but because there was so much stuff, we started just giving it away to different charities and even posting free signs on the tables in her yard.

    Afterward, I went home and purged my house.

    • Elf Ahearn says:

      Collette,
      You know exactly what we went through sorting through my sister’s collection. There were about a 100 boxes mostly full of garbage, and then we’d find a picture of us when we were kids, or her passport, or her college dipolma. Everything stuffed together. Very tough. Garage sales didn’t work for use, either. People’s eyes glazed over at the sheer volume.

  11. What an intriguing and poignant inspiration for a novel. I’m truly looking forward to reading it, Elf!

    In all honesty I probably have too many books for the house in which I live. They are, however, all on shelves in order by subject, author and genre. (I’m just a LITTLE OCD about that sort of thing.)

    When it comes to purging useless pieces of paper I am more than a bit ruthless. I have watched Hoarders and I see so many times they keep a magazine because there is ONE article they might want from it. When I finish with a magazine IF there is an article I want for some reason I cut it out, put it in a sheet protector and toss the magazine. Most junk mail never makes it into the house. I have a trash bag in my car and I generally sort my mail at the mailbox!

    Your sister is proof that recovery IS possible, painful, but possible and I know she will come to realize (if she hasn’t already) that you did what you did out of love.

    • Elf Ahearn says:

      Louisa,
      I think deep down my sister does understand why we took away her precious things–but imagine how it would feel if your family came in and cleared all of your books out.
      But, what else could we do?

  12. Sandra Owens says:

    Elf,

    Such a poignant post, and by the time I got to the part where your sister is happy again and the two of you are close once more, I found myself breathing a huge sigh of relief. You’re book sounds awesome and I can’t wait to read it.

    • Elf Ahearn says:

      Thanks so much, Sandra. Yes, thank goodness for the happily ever after between my sister and me. For a while there, I wasn’t sure it was possible.
      Fortunately, she’s a great lady and was able to pull through.

  13. Susan/DC says:

    My sister works for the Humane Society and has sad stories of hoarders. The HS is called in because people who hoard stuff may also hoard pets. The animal welfare people may find not only many, many living animals (often not well cared for) but corpses of cats/dogs/whatever among the stacks inside and outside of the hoarder’s hosue. Very sad for the animals and all of the people involved, including the families of the hoarders, as you point out.

    • Elf Ahearn says:

      Susan,
      Unfortunately, animal hoarding seems to go hand-in-glove with stuff hoarding. My sister didn’t collect animals, but when my mother sold our house, she gave my sister two old cats. Then an unscrupulous social worker left two more cats with her. That’s only four animals, but the conditions they were living in … not so great.

  14. What a heartbreaking chapter of your lives, Elf. I’m so glad your sister was able to make the turn and things are going well for her. I thankfully don’t know any hoarders and I myself about ruthless about getting rid of stuff.
    Congratulations on the release of your second book! Can’t wait to read it.

    • Elf Ahearn says:

      Hey Charlotte,
      Great to hear from you! I envy your “ruthless[ness]” in getting rid of stuff. My first instinct is to keep everything — a holdover from my dad — but since living in a tiny apartment in NYC, I’ve learned to use the wastebasket.

  15. Jane Toombs says:

    Since I have a “saving tendency,” I force myself to donate books I don’t really need to the local library and clothes I never wear, plus other articles to our local thrift store. Because I’m the caretaker for my S.O.with Parkinson’s who is wheel chair bound, I removed my beloved Oriental rug from the living room floor. It’s still rolled up on the glassed in front porch, though. But eventually I’ll run an ad in the local paper and sell it. People matter, not things, as my mother used to say, but I can nderstand hoarders. Jane

    • Elf Ahearn says:

      Jane,
      If your beloved Persian is truly beloved, then it’s not hoarding to keep it. I have a collection of tea cups my grandmother collected all over the world. They sit in boxes in the attic because I’ve nowhere to display them. Will I put an ad in the paper? No way. I adore them, and someday I’m going to find the perfect place in my home for them. OR, I’ll give them to my nephew when he grows up and then he can sell them.
      To my mind, hoarding is when you attach value to things that simply have none — scraps of wood, dirty plastic buckets, crumbling foam rubber . . .
      Keep your Persian — you’re no where near hoarding.

  16. diane says:

    Elf,
    I’m coming in late, but welcome to the Riskies.
    I used to be a Mental Health Social Worker for a special program for the elderly. We worked closely with Adult Protective Services and saw many Hoarders. My boss became (and still is) an expert on the subject, organizing the area’s first workshops on the subject.

    I remember one woman who had a bedroom full of books, mostly paperback romance novels. They were thrown in the room and were about knee deep. Another woman I worked with was a “quality” hoarder. She had some really nice stuff! Of course, it was packed in with some junk, too, but she was an excellent collector who lost a bit of control.

    There was a famous account of the Collyer brothers who were hoarders in New York City and who both died in 1947. One brother died beneath their hoards of stuff; the other, by then infirm, brother died from starvation. The police had to dig through the stuff to find the bodies.

  17. I found this post while looking for your Twitter address for the MFRW Newsletter. Now your blurb makes so much more sense. My heart goes out to you and your family.

    My bookcases finally collapsed from overcrowding and I had a dozen boxes of books the fire department wanted me to move from beneath my bedroom window in my last apartment, but I just couldn’t part with them. I planned to get new bookcases “next month” but never quite had the money. Then I moved in with my daughter and stored them in her basement. Now I’m in Senior Housing and she’s moved in with her fiance and no longer has a basement. I’ve given away several boxes and have four more to go through and dispose of and I’m having a really difficult time doing so. Books are like friends! These will probably go away next month, but I finally do have new bookcases and I’m keeping as many as I can.

  18. Kat attalla says:

    Some of out most powerful books are drawn from real life experiences. Wonderful stories, both the real and the imagined.

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