Guest Author Barbara Taylor Sissel

If the name of our guest today sounds familiar to you, it is because she was here in March when she stopped by to talk about her book, The Ninth Step, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  We had some email correspondence and to my surprise, she  generously gifted me a copy of one of her other books.   Another great read so I asked if she would come back, visit with us all and talk about the book that she sent me, and to my delight, she accepted.  So please, help me welcome back, Barbara Taylor Sissel.


Barbara Taylor Sissel is a freelance writer, book reviewer, and editor. In addition to The Ninth Step, she is the author of two other novels, The Volunteer and The Last Innocent Hour. A one-time editor for a small regional press, Barbara has written extensively for the public relations field. Her short stories and articles have appeared in a number of venues.

An avid gardener, Barbara is currently working with numerous clients on a variety of projects and writing a new novel. She has two sons and lives in Texas outside Houston.

For more information on past and forthcoming books, visit her website. She also blogs here.



The Roots of the Story

One day I read in the newspaper about a man called a volunteer. In the article, the term “volunteer” wasn’t used in its usual sense. It applied to a prisoner on death row, a man who had been incarcerated there for a number of years, and who had subsequently decided to call off his appeals. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was a volunteer. So was serial killer Gary Gilmore.

The inmate whose story I followed through the news media had to go through channels. It wasn’t a simple matter of asking to die and having the request granted. There was a whole long legal process. In addition to petitioning the court through his attorneys, he had to submit to examination by psychiatrists and pronounced sound enough in mind to make such a decision. There were hearings, more than one if I remember right. He endured a lot of backlash from his fellow inmates. They thought he was copping out, that his act of volunteerism was tantamount to saying he supported the death penalty. Anti-death penalty groups were also against him. They contended, and still do, that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment and should be outlawed no matter who is asking for it. Others labeled it—and again, they still do—state-assisted suicide. According to them, the inmate was getting one over on the system, using it, in other words, to do what he could not find a way to do. All of this was interesting to me to think about, in particular I wondered what it was like to know the exact date of your death. Did the inmate have a calendar and did he mark the day with a red X? But even more than that, what weighed on my mind as I followed the inmate’s story through a number of days was the impact all of this was having on his family.

I wondered, too, about the families of his victims, the two people whom the inmate had murdered after taking them hostage in the course of a convenience store robbery. I wondered about the parents, children and siblings of these three people. I wondered about their friends, all the people who had known them way back when. In the “before” time, when they were just kids and still innocent.

I wondered most about the mothers. I’m a mother. I have two sons, both grown, but I still recall vividly how it felt holding them in my arms. I remember their small faces upturned to mine and their rapt attention when I read to them or sang to them. I remember walks in the woods with them and eating out in restaurants and going bye-bye in the car. I remember the warmth of their hands in mine when we crossed a busy street. So many small acts of love go into a childhood; as mothers we invest so much tender care, so much loving time in our children. Had the death row inmate’s mother invested in her son in this way? Chances are she had not. At least that’s what the statistics say, that criminals don’t ordinarily come from stable, loving homes. And if in the case of this inmate that was true, if this mom hadn’t loved her son, what happened? Why didn’t she?

So while The Volunteer is a story about death row, it is more a story about families under duress, families in the time of calamity. It is a story of mothers and their children when the children are young and when they are middle aged and their parents are old and all the sins come home to roost. It is the story of a woman, a mother and psychologist, who through a shattering series of events uncovers a terrible secret in her past, one that ultimately leaves her holding the power to save a man’s life even as it threatens everything she has come to believe about herself.

After I read the newspaper article, I wanted to know about the mothers; The Volunteer is the story about them that unfolded through hours of what proved to be fascinating and compelling research and writing. I hope you’ll be intrigued now and want to read it and if you do, that you’ll enjoy it.



In the fall of 1999, psychologist Sophia Beckman is compelled by the court to give testimony on behalf of a death row inmate that results in his sentence being overturned. Haunted by secrets from her past, she avoids the media spotlight as much as possible, but soon, other prisoners’ families come seeking her assistance. One family in particular, the wife, children, and brother of Jarrett Capshaw, is especially insistent. Forty-one days ago Jarrett’s request to die was granted by the State of Texas, and he became a dead man walking, a man they call a volunteer.

Jarrett’s crimes were unusual, involving the theft of precious Mayan antiquities. Murder was never part of the plan, but murder is what happened. He pulled the trigger, and as little as he feels prepared for it, as much as he struggles with matters of the soul, he’s ready to die. It is the only way his family and the families of his victims will be free to move on. While Jarrett labors to find the words to say good-bye to those he has loved, Sophia finds herself drawn into a relationship with his wife and oldest son. It is Jarrett’s family she can’t resist and there will be a price to pay. But not even Sophia could have foreseen the outcome when the brutal truth is exposed, the unalloyed facts that, incredibly, will deliver Jarrett’s fate straight into her hands.

The Volunteer is a story about families, how they are made, and how in one single, horrifying instant, they can be broken. It is a story about mothers and the lies they tell to protect their children, to keep them from being hurt. But what happens when the truth comes out anyway and nothing and no one is spared? Sometimes the truth has the power to break your heart, and in Sophia’s case it will also endanger her freedom and threaten everything she has ever believed about her life.
Read my review here.



I received a copy of this book, at no charge to me,
in exchange for my honest review.
No items that I receive
are ever sold…they are kept by me,
or given to family and/or friends.

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