When bestselling author Susan Mustafa began working on her most recent book, it put her in touch with a group of people who had experienced disastrously low moments, yet endured and even grew from the experience.
It turned out to be more than research. It was preparation.
When the mid-August flood hit historic records, one of the thousands of homes flooded was Mustafa’s. Hers is one of the piles of ruined furniture, drywall and appliances lining the street. Since she and her husband, Steve, had flood insurance, they consider themselves lucky, but they are still living with other family members while they try to return their home to normal.
“You think that you have your life and everything is going good, and then something like this happens and everything is turned upside down,” Mustafa said. “But I’m blessed that I have a lot of people in my life that care about me.”
And to have a just-released book.
“Rock Bottom and Back” has nearly two dozen stories of people whose calamities — many of them self-inflicted — could have wrecked their lives. Her interviews with them reveal how they overcame the challenges and, in many cases, went on to greater things.
In her writings, Mustafa is no stranger to human wreckage. She has written several books on serial killers, including “The Most Dangerous Animal of All,” a story about a Baton Rouge man, Gary Stewart, who believes his father, Earl Van Best, might have been the infamous “Zodiac Killer” in San Francisco in the 1960s and ’70s. That book reached The New York Times bestseller list.
Earl B. Heard, CEO of Business and Industry Communications, broached the "Rock Bottom" book idea with Mustafa, whom he had hired years ago to work for his BIC magazine. She liked it and spent about six months interviewing a variety of subjects.
Some of them, like former LSU and NBA basketball star Stanley Roberts, are well-known. Roberts was banned from the NBA for drug abuse, but after rehabilitation he returned to LSU for a degree in sports administration. He avoids the limelight but has been involved in charitable causes, including Pat’s Coats for Kids.
Others in the book are little known individually, though some have connections to major events. Deena Burnett Bailey’s husband, Tom Bailey, had been on United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, when it was hijacked. He called her several times on his cellphone while midair before passengers tried to retake control of the airplane, which crashed in Pennsylvania, killing all aboard.
“I interviewed her and cried through that whole interview,” Mustafa said. “I knew that one was going to get me. That was pretty intense. Reliving that day through her perspective was unbelievable. We all know how it affected everybody, but he’s calling her from the plane. For me, that was pretty powerful.”
Some subjects, like Tonja Myles, of Baton Rouge, experienced traumas like childhood rape, which led her into drugs and prostitution before she overcame that through faith and started a successful recovery program for others. Alcoholism, post traumatic stress disorder, cancer, gambling, motorcycle gangs — there is a long list of life destroying issues that people managed to conquer.
“Trust me, those people in the book went a lot further down than I have,” Mustafa said.
Still, gutting a house, especially one built a century or so ago with layers of shiplap and bead-board that has to be ripped out slat by slat, takes a toll. The Mustafas realized the water was entering their neighborhood on early Aug. 13 when a neighbor called to say he needed help getting out.
Now, like their neighbors, they’re trying to restore what they can, fighting the mold and other effects water has had on their wooden structure. A six-month dose of people overcoming worse issues is coming in handy.
“There’s always hope,” Mustafa said. “No matter how bad things get in life and how bad they seem at any given moment, there’s always hope for a better life and there’s always people out there who are going to help you achieve that better life. That’s what I hope people take away from it.”
For more information about the book, visit bicmediasolutions.com/projects.