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About the Author: Natasha Sumner

As a child, the world felt unsafe. As if at any minute, I might die.

I grew up in a turbulent environment and in some ways I was left to fend for myself. My father drank his pain and my mother swam in a sea of anger undulating from the pressure of raising two young children on her own with limited financial resources. At times, I wasn’t sure I was loved by anyone. As the older child, I took on the responsibility of caring for my sibling, a burden that catapulted me into the adult world at too young an age. I was sexually abused as a child. I told no one and the guilt grew in me like an infection. My coping mechanisms became rooted in controlling my world and I learned to protect myself by shutting down. I put an armor around me that nobody could break. I cried inside.

My only outlet was writing. My heart was hollow, my limbs heavy with unexpressed grief. I felt emotions only through my words. I began writing poetry in my early years of college and eventually found myself wanting to write a full length novel. What I didn’t know then was how ten years of healing from my childhood and a chronic illness would lead to a thriller series with a lead character steeped in my own passion, insecurities, anxiety, health challenges, and fierce loyalty.

Severe panic attacks hit me when I was just twelve years old and the assaults became more frequent in my twenties. What was happening? Was I going crazy, I asked myself as dread and doom weighed me down, at times so thick I could hardly breathe. I dealt with my anxiety by exercising excessively. That worked for awhile but my childhood clung to me like a frightened child. In my early thirties, while in the middle of law school and under immense stress and pressure, my physical health declined suddenly and rapidly. The insidious symptoms began with what felt like a flu that just wouldn’t end. I took the California State Bar with a relentless migraine, a testament to my will but also a sad consequence of never being taught how to care for myself; how to put myself first. After numerous doctor visits (and being told it was all in my head), I found an amazing physician who diagnosed me with chronic fatigue syndrome. I endured ten years of sickening headaches, stomach issues, bone crushing fatigue, and depression. I hit rock bottom. I had to do something because I was not living. I was barely surviving.

So I began to write again. To escape into a world of characters with intense inner strength and dedication and interpersonal challenges that make them flawed but lovable. I’ve lived in Northern California my entire life. San Francisco has always been magical to me, so I set the series in one of the most iconic cities in the world. Living in the Bay Area and surrounded by cultural diversity, I chose a chinese-american lead character, a group I feel is underrepresented in mainstream entertainment. I looked to my Asian-American friends for guidance. Li became a beautiful mixture of all that I knew, all that was familiar to me.

When I first became sick, and didn’t recover, I was overcome with a deep, unrelenting fear that I would never be healthy again. I pictured myself homeless, unable to take care of my basic needs. While deep down I knew I had people in my life that would never let that happen, the fear was intense, all-consuming, and I couldn’t escape it. I asked over and over the questions many with a chronic illness ask. Did I cause this? Will I ever get better? Will I die? How can I fix this? Why did this happen to me? To try and make sense of my illness, I created a character with a very real and serious health issue, one she cannot ignore, one she cannot get away from, no matter how many cases she takes, no matter how hard she tries, no matter how many children she saves. Li simply has to face her demons. She has no other choice. I had no other choice.

I would never say that getting sick or any of the other challenges I’ve had in my life have been a blessing in disguise. I wish they had never happened. But they did lead me to my passion. The Vanished Ones is full of suspense with a lead character you want to get to know, a character for whom you are rooting. My life experiences inspired me to do something that has rarely, if ever, been done: write an ongoing series with the same lead character that crosses genres, from crime thriller to legal thriller, as the series progresses. The Li Chen books will take you from the darkest crime scenes to the courtroom, tackling issues from child sex trafficking to female perpetrators. Li, like me, will overcome obstacles that seem impenetrable as she navigates the world of missing children and childhood abuse. She is a character we can all relate to.

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