The heroine in Fanchon Stylezz’s first novel, “Heart of Kings,” grows up in Long Island, gets drawn into a love triangle that puts her in grave danger, and suffers a near-fatal heart attack. While the story of Taliyah Russo is not totally autobiographical, Stylezz does share some of the experiences faced by her gritty protagonist.
“I wanted to show how someone can make one bad decision and have life spiral out of control,” said Stylezz, whose real name is Fanchon Woodward.
Woodward’s own story is, in fact, an epic tale of gut-wrenching setbacks and strong-willed recoveries. Woodward was first referred to Community Housing Innovations, Inc. (CHI), Long Island’s largest provider of housing and services for the homeless, in 2006. She had been a repeated victim of domestic violence at the hands of her partner and was in protective custody. CHI originally housed Woodward and her two children in a hotel before transferring them to homeless housing in Manhasset, where they lived for two years receiving case management services.
In 2007, two weeks after the birth of her third child, Woodward suffered a massive heart attack. She was diagnosed with coronary artery disease and an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) was placed in her chest to keep her alive. She spent a month in the hospital but the prognosis remained dire, and in early 2008 doctors told Woodward she only had weeks to live.
“I told my family at that time I’m not ready to go, and here I am seven years later,” she said.
In the years after her heart attack, Woodward was hospitalized for anemia and received blood transfusions, and suffered from bouts of vertigo. Nonetheless, she vowed to satisfy a long-held ambition and began to write a novel.
But Woodward’s life-threatening health issues continued. In May 2013, she suffered a stroke. She couldn’t walk and temporarily lost vision in her left eye. Through rigorous physical therapy, she was able to regain her balance and learn how to live a somewhat normal and productive life.
The stroke delayed work on her book, but Woodward persevered. She wrote at night while her children were sleeping, and secured the help of friends with editing. “The book is my fourth child,” she said. “It took three years to complete and required so much work and nurturing.”
Despite overtures from publishers, Woodward decided to self-publish the novel and raised funds through a crowdfunding campaign on indiegogo.com. “I wanted to have complete control over the project,” she said, “and that’s something I couldn’t have done if I worked with a publisher.”
“I had to learn all about the production process, secure the artwork, and figure out how to get the book on Amazon and in the iBooks store, but I wanted to show my kids that you can do anything you want to do,” she added.
Friend and mentor, Damon Diddit, an independent television and film producer and director, said that Fanchon has worked hard to develop her art, and that she has been able to capture the emotions of her own adversities and express them in “Heart of Kings.”
“It is a story that will resonate with a lot of women, and all the emotion and hardship they experience,” he said. “It can also be an eye opener for males that can raise some serious self-awareness.”
Woodward and her children rent a CHI-owned house in Lynbrook and continue to receive supportive housing case management services from the agency. Her eldest daughter, Ivy, is graduating from Lynbrook High School. Ivy is interested in art and fashion and will attend Nassau Community College in the summer semester. Son, Jaylen, is a junior at Lynbrook High where he has repeatedly received high scores in state education and college preparatory exams. The youngest daughter, Aaliyah, is now in first grade and is “a handful and full of energy,” said Woodward.
“I couldn’t have done what I have done without CHI; that includes recovering from my health issues and writing my book,” she said.
Woodward has already started a sequel to “Heart of Kings.”
“We’re going to have to see what happens to Taliyah as she recovers from her heart attack,” Woodward teased.