Ivy Tech Community College–Northeast alumna Tara Mitchell recently published her first novel, but her own life story is quite a compelling tale of its own.
Mitchell said writing “Annabelle’s Kingdom,” her young-adult adventure story, “is the neatest thing I’ve ever done.”
It’s also one of the most remarkable, given what she’s overcome to become a published author.
Mitchell suffers from a genetic defect of the connective tissue called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. She lacks a protein in the collagen of her connective tissue that results in hyper-mobility with her joints. She has had 25 operations in 27 years. When she was young, she faced a new surgery every 18 months to three years.
“It was miserable,” she recalled. “I was in pain all the time.”
Many parts of her body began to break down. “My shoulders, lower back, knees, both hands . . . there was a ripping, tearing pain,” she shared. At one point doctors discussed amputating her hands.
In the midst of all this, Mitchell decided to go to college, choosing paralegal studies at Ivy Tech–Northeast. “I picked a degree I could live with,” she said, noting she made the dean’s list and “loved being in school.”
A job in a law office followed, but Mitchell became disillusioned with the legal profession and decided to move on after some time.
Her legal background helped her land a job covering courthouse news for The Herald-Press in Huntington, Ind., but her condition eventually forced her to leave that position. She couldn’t navigate the stairs at the courthouse, and finally couldn’t hold onto a pen. “It was painful just to move,” she remembered.
“I had to find a job I could physically do,” Mitchell said, so she became a gatehouse attendant at Roush Lake, but her hips couldn’t take the standing that was required, so she had to quit. Soon she was unable to drive due to the discomfort, so she spent much of her time at home. Depression set in. “I just gave up,” she said. “I was feeling sorry for myself, and I was angry at the world.”
It wasn’t until she met Kentucky orthopedic surgeon Luis Scheker that things started to improve. Dr. Scheker has performed 23 operations to repair unstable joints in her hands, wrists, thumbs, fingers and one elbow. She has had four ligament reconstructions and bone shortening operations to straighten the joints in her wrists. These surgeries involved placing bi-lateral titanium implants in the bones of her wrists.
Mitchell’s mobility issues are now largely a thing of the past. In fact, she noted, “The more I move around, the better off I am.” She still experiences pain in her joints some days and may need additional surgeries to remove scar tissue or repair dislocations caused by her condition, but her quality of life has vastly improved.
And it doesn’t hurt that she’s stumbled upon a writing career she said “fits into my life.”
She calls “Annabelle’s Kingdom” her “own little ant farm” for which she could create whatever characters and settings her imagination dreamed up. It took her about a month to write the 12-chapter book. “I kept writing and writing and before I knew it, I had a novel,” she said.
The characters are loosely based on her son Brian and his friends. The story features a boy named Alex and four of his friends who discover a time capsule in the forest. The five friends spend their summer unearthing clues and visiting places that eventually help them unravel the mysteries surrounding Annabelle and her kingdom.
Mitchell’s publisher, Chris Jackson, co-founder of Australian publishing house ASJ Publishing, called the book “a heartwarming story of adventure and mystery. It’s our hope that ‘Annabelle’s Kingdom’ is widely received.” The book was released worldwide on Dec. 15 and will be featured at a book fair in Bologna, Italy, in March.
Mitchell said she couldn’t be happier about finding her niche in the writing world: “It fits into my life, it uses my education and it’s a career my body is not going to take away from me.”