Frisco's Own Breakout NovelistJul 31, 2017 ● By Christi Redfearn
Ms. Roe grew up in Denison, Texas, a small city north of Frisco, also known as the birthplace of President Eisenhower. She graduated from high school there, then attended the University of North Texas for a couple years. She transferred to Cornell University in upstate N.Y. to finish her undergraduate degree. Of Ithaca, N.Y., Ms. Roe says, “I did not know how beautiful it would be. It is in the middle of several state parks and I still miss it.” She completed graduate school at Harvard University then came back to North Texas to run a mentoring program.
Ms. Roe’s education covers child psychology and risk and prevention programming for at-risk schools. “I was always interested in working in this field. When I was 18, my mom and I started raising my three nephews who had been in an abusive situation. When I first started, I did not know what to do. That was a huge motivation for me — to study and figure out what I could do to help them. You realize there are so many kids who go through that,” Ms. Roe explains. A true testament of her dedication was that her education took a grand total of 11 years to complete, due to life situations that changed repeatedly. She chipped away at the plan, little by little, until she finished. She faced challenges (and mom guilt) raising three boys along the way.
Ms. Roe volunteered with the Friends of the Family program in Denton. “I was working with the children’s group therapy program one night a week. They asked me to run the entire program when I was 20 years old, but I did not feel like I knew what I was doing. I just got really attached to the kids and I did not know how long I would be with them before they moved on to something else. I was only supposed to be there one night a week, but I ended up being there every night. I loved that.”
Ms. Roe’s first job was working at a preschool when she was 17. It revealed to her that she wanted to spend her life working with children. She shares, “A lot of these kids come into school angry because they have dealt with so much. So, understandably, a lot of teachers are offended or hurt, but I got to be this ally they could talk to so they did not feel alone at school.” When teachers have hundreds of students to keep track of every day, it is difficult for them to dig deeper to understand each student facing different problems. Teachers have so many roles they already must play, it can be tough to try to be therapists on top of everything else.
Fast forward to today and Ms. Roe’s nephews, who started out with her and her mother at the ages of 8, 4 and 9 months old, are all now in their twenties and she cannot stop bragging about them. In fact, she glows when she talks about them. It is obvious she loves them as her own.
Everything turned on its head (pardon the pun) when, about a year into teaching, Ms. Roe had unexplained brain swelling that forced her to leave work. “All I could think about was how much pain I was in,” she says. It was at least two years of tough battles with hospitals and doctors with no relief in sight. Her sons found a homeopathic doctor which led to a lot of relief. She was reluctant to go with alternative medicine. However, the results gave her hope. Ms. Roe was diagnosed in 2009, after two years of doctors and hospitals. About five years ago, she got to a point where she felt like she could manage everything again. It is not perfect, but she cannot dispute the turnaround she has seen.
Her illness is what led her down the path of writing. While she was battling her illness, she realized life is too precious to not try something because of fear. “It just hit me. This is our life! I have a lot more control than I realize. I get to choose what I want to do. I was still afraid to do it, but the fear of not doing it was greater. If I had not gotten sick, I might have just kept going down the path of being fulfilled, but not fully,” Ms. Roe says of her professional life change.
Her writing career has been a dream come true. After sending out query letters, a few agents responded wanting to represent her. She ended up going with an agent she felt comfortable with, as she was new to the publishing world and had just gotten through the worst of her health battle. “Within a couple weeks, my novel went to auction and I ended up with a two-book deal. It was all so crazy. I had no money left. Everything had gone to medical bills. So, it was a blessing,” she adds.
Ms. Roe says she loved working with her editor and the whole process of getting her book out to the world. From signing with her agent to being published was about 18 months, which is a little quicker than the average book. “I was concerned the content was a little much for teens, but I had to write what I felt was honest,” she shares. “A List of Cages” was released in January of this year and Ms. Roe says it is a story about the power of kindness. She uses her child therapy and school counseling background to fuel a story about two high school boys who face different challenges -- one with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the other with secrets that could get both boys in a lot of trouble.
Ms. Roe is working on her second book. She shares, “It is going well, but it is taking longer than expected. It takes place in the same kind of world, but the main character is very different from the one in the first book.”
Writing is, without a doubt, a passion for Ms. Roe. She loves going to festivals and writing conferences. She has made many friends within the young adult genre and says she enjoys doing school visits. In the end, Ms. Roe is writing her stories to continue finding a way to help children and young adults. She says kids contact her about very personal things because of the nature of her book and she hopes the story helps kids find ways to deal with their own challenges in a positive way. Her story is a wonderful tale of overcoming obstacles and using past experiences to help others.