February 25

Writer’s Block – Breaking the Wall

Not long ago, I was going along writing my novel when I hit a wall. It stumped me for months. There was an issue in the chapter that didn’t feel real to me. Without this factor worked out, the remainder of the book would unravel. Huge brick wall! I interviewed several people, trying to work it out in my head. Nothing. I ended up putting the chapter down and starting over – at the beginning! I knew that until that chapter was worked out in my head, nothing else would work so I worked on my editing, starting with the first chapter.

An extended phone call with my PR Director and researcher, Regina Farmer, and a free and open exchange of ideas did the trick. The wall fell apart and opened up new creative thoughts! My advise is to find one or two trusted minds that will talk without a script and amazing ideas will emerge! I’m lucky to have two – a great editor, Julia McVey and a savvy PR Director, Regina Farmer.

I recently sat down with Regina to get some advise that can be shared with bloggers and writers.

Regina, thank you for taking time to talk to me. You have a long and celebrated career working as a director for a major newspaper. You love to read and are a fabulous beta reader. Do you have a hard time telling a writer that the chapter or part of the chapter doesn’t work for you? Do you measure your words?

Regina: Reading is something I am very proud of, I grew up dyslectic (still am it doesn’t go away) Imagine even attempting a book when words appear different on a page. In an effort to overcome my dyslexia I turned to books and forced myself to read a sentence over and over again until the words all seemed to flow. My disabilities lead to a lifetime of loving to read. Now I proudly can read quickly and concisely through constant training. When I am reading pre-published books I tend to pick up on a paragraph that might not flow or work. In relaying this to the writer I would say I am frank and challenge the writer on it. To me the writer appreciates the frankness of the critique.

De Smet: As a beta reader for my upcoming book, Brooklyn Bitters, you and I have gotten to know the heroine very well. Do you see yourself in Kate?

Regina: In many ways I do, she is a career woman from the 80’s, I identify with this. Starting my career in the 80’s the book reflects a lot of the obstacles I encountered during this decade. Very relatable.

De Smet: You knew I had built a tall wall in one particular chapter. What is your best advise for writers if they encounter a wall?

Regina: Try to get the writer’s blood flowing, get them excited, talk through what might be putting the wall up. In some cases throw idea’s out to see if the writer picks up something that gets them fired up and ready to go back to putting words to paper. At the end of the day the idea’s I might throw out are meaningless BUT if the writers blood starts to flow that is all that matters they are the one that will produce the scenario that fits their thoughts.

If the writer is hitting a block wall and consults you as the beta reader the best thing to do is:
Listen .. try to ascertain where the writer hit the wall .. once this is clear attempt to get the writer to talk about this area in greater detail Engage in conversation centered around the area of the block, is the writer blocked because the scene might not seem plausible, or is it not
flowing right for future chapters?

As a beta reader you can throw out several ideas bounce things off the wall and see if anything sticks or gets the writer excited. If the writer is looking for plausiblity of a situation it is important to assist with research and development of the feasiblity .. fact checking is crucial .. if a reader does not believe the story or believes it is not plausible they may put the book down and never read it.

De Smet: Working in a newspaper environment, you’ve encountered many supervisors. How has that helped you in reading about the work environment? My book takes place in the 1980’s. You’ve called me out on a few discrepancies as it relates to the 1980s. How important is that specific experience? What if the time period was the 1800s?

Regina: Working in management in the 80’s it was definitely a “man’s” world, women were still fighting for their place in the work environment. I guess I consider myself an expert in this area as I fought to be in a “man’s” world. If the period was 1800’s I would research to understand the obstacles a woman during that time period might have faced.

De Smet: What advise would you give writers in finding beta readers? How many readers would you recommend or do you feel one works better?

Regina: To me the best beta readers are going to be someone who loves to read. I think two to three readers are an adequate number.

Thank you for your insight, Regina. It’s interesting to get your take as a woman that has competed in a male dominated environment. I would love to interview you again and dig deeper into your experiences as a female director of a major newspaper during the 1980s and later. Continue reading

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February 17

Have you had a feeling you couldn’t shake?

Have you gone somewhere and knew you’d been there before? Met someone and felt an instant connection? What about a snapshot in your mind that disappeared?

In Pages in the Wind, Emily visits her old neighborhood, which triggers questions and feelings. A murky picture that doesn’t quite come into focus:

As I closed the car door, I wondered what Mrs. Hemet meant about my being “through so much.” The words made me think of my destroyed artwork. I missed looking at the pictures of Grandma and Penelope. My memories of Grandma were still strong; I thought of her every time I passed a lemon tree or smelled the sweet scent of pastries. But I had nothing of Penelope except the sound of her giggle.

I walked to the fence and unlatched the gate, gazing at the spot where I’d hidden the box. It physically hurt knowing the sketches were hidden, but I promised myself I would piece them back together someday. I had to. The drawings held answers to secrets; I felt it in my heart. Those torn pages held the truth about why my sister died, my mother couldn’t embrace me, and Father hated me. Someday I would figure out why I lived a tortured life, half at the hand of my father and half at my own.

An icy wind ripped through me, and the air became bitter cold. I gripped my shivery body and put my head down so the sudden cold wouldn’t numb my face. After a few seconds, I lifted my head, wide-eyed. The atmosphere was sultry and warm and the air as calm as a sleeping baby.

 

February 6

Breaking Stereotypes


In writing Pages in the Wind, I wanted to avoid stereotypes. One of my favorite characters in the book is Emily’s friend, Perry – known as Pudge. When she first meets Pudge, she feels sorry for him. He is bullied by this classmates and seems to keep to himself. As the story progresses, she views him differently because he inspires admiration, not pity. It would have been easy to write him as a teen with low self worth, but breaking a stereotype was more rewarding and expressed my disdain for bullying.

This passage is when she first meets Perry:

As we chatted, he hung on every word, nodding in agreement over the simplest comment. I understood. I’d been in that situation too, staking my claim that I was with someone. But Pudge didn’t try to disguise himself; he clearly starred in the role of the fat kid with no friends. I guess that’s why I felt comfortable around him; I didn’t have to pretend to be someone else.

In this latter passage, Perry steps up to the podium to deliver his valedictorian speech:

As Pudge—I mean Perry, finished his speech and stepped away from the podium, the applause was deafening. People stood on their feet and clapped for the fat kid that no one wanted to be around. I jumped and cheered and even tried to whistle. All the sneers Pudge had endured for years terminated in a round of applause. He had the last word.

January 18

Kate – The Seeds of Sibling Rivalry

 

 Oh, sibling rivalry. I’ve seen it up close. Fortunately, as the only daughter and a middle child…my role was the peacemaker and I didn’t have anyone to compete with (or wasn’t interested). But I did have a front row seat. It was sometimes entertaining, funny, and at times…upsetting. Where does it come from? I’m pretty sure the seeds are planted early. In this scene of my upcoming novel, Brooklyn Bitters, although subtle…you can get a sense how it started:

I spooned another helping of gumbo. It felt good to be called a girl at forty-two. As for the beautiful part, I was no Stacey with her sexy body and pretty face. My face wore the signs of too much reading; I had lines between my eyebrows and the beginnings of crow’s feet. I got my dad’s brown eyes instead of Mother’s blue, and my dark hair touched my shoulders with a touch of gray at the temple. At least, I got Ma’s high cheekbones, full lips, and slender, tall frame at five feet nine. I was best described as average. My father always called Stacey the beauty and me the athlete. Of course, I could barely manage twenty push-ups and was always on the tail-end of a one mile run, but he had tried to give me something.

January 4

Reid- A Fearless Boy and Adult Hero

 

Pages in the Wind deals with some difficult topics but the story has a lot of heart and it has it’s heroes. Quite a few actually. There’s the doctor, Robert, Pudge, and her love, Reid. Emily falls in love early, and the relationship is a deep one in spite of the early start. Reid is everything that Emily isn’t: fearless, confident, cocky, and at times intense. But he loves Emily and her fears that he’ll drop her as his best friend are not true. He’s exactly what he portrays and is a wonderful character in the book. This is an early passage. Reid is a prankster and gets them both in a heap of trouble. When Emily objects, he becomes offended and accuses her of not wanting to be his friend anymore. Emily convinces him that she would never feel that way. Her inner dialogue reaches far beyond her reassuring words.

Once the prank faded, all I saw was my fearless Reid. I agreed with Mr. Hemet’s lecture about the danger of putting a live snake in his house, but his warning to stay away from Reid was wrong. Wrong for me. I didn’t feel jeopardized by Reid, I felt protected. I believed someday the fearless boy would become an adult hero. If my life were threatened, he would be the one to save me.

December 27

A Safe Place

We all need a place to feel safe. For most of us, it’s our home. After a lousy day at work or a dismal day at school, home is a beacon. But what if home doesn’t offer safety? In this passage from Pages in the Wind, eight-year old Emily, talks about her safe place – Grandma’s house:

The faint glow of the late afternoon sun touched my face as I jumped out of the car. Birch trees quivered in the breeze, and the scent of damp pine needles and cedar reminded me of Christmas. The fruit groves, giant evergreens, and fields of wild clovers and moss surrounded the old wood and stone craftsman home like an enchanted forest. I gushed with giggles and short squeals knowing the day had finally arrived. I couldn’t wait to spend a month with Grandma.

Unfortunately for little Emily, her safe place only lasts a month. In this scene, she prepares to say goodbye to Grandma, and return to San Francisco with her parents:

Early the next morning, the family gathered at the front door saying their goodbyes. I stood back, dabbing my eyes.

Grandma sat eye-level with me. “My precious bébé. We’ll be together soon. Next time I will teach you to make crepe cakes.”

My chest heaved as I caught each whimper and reined them back to talk to her. I gazed into her soft blue eyes, already thinking about next August. She had no idea why going home was killing me—I didn’t even know. “I’ll write you every day, Grandma. My hand never gets tired. I’ll draw you beautiful pictures too.” I grabbed her hand, wondering if it was too late to squeeze it twice.

Father pushed me aside. “That’s enough. Leave your grandma alone.”

December 10

Brother and Sister

designI love the sibling relationship between Emily and Robert in Pages in the Wind. I think it’s especially important in an intense book. We need someone to count on. In this excerpt, the tender relationship is defined:

I heard Robert grab his keys and leave the house. I pressed my palms against my eyes to snuff out the tears. I felt happy and sad. I was happy he’d convinced me my drawings were good but sad because I knew in my heart he had chosen Harvard.

I couldn’t tell him a cockamamie story to trick him into staying. It would have benefitted me, but I couldn’t do that to him. When Father put the negatives in my head and Mother gutted me with disinterest, Robert had been there to fill my head with mirthful sonnets to breathe hope into my tired soul.

Now, I had to go it alone because my sweet brother would be moving to Boston.

December 4

Cold Claire

img_0283She’s not a villain. She’s not even mean. Claire doesn’t neglect her duties. She educates her children and gives them cultural advantages. She decorates her daughter’s bedroom with beautiful French decor. She studies the teen magazines to make sure her child is dressed in the latest trends. But…you won’t love her. You probably won’t even like her. She’s Claire in Pages in the Wind.

In this excerpt, a neighbor compliments Emily’s artwork. Eager to get her mother’s opinion, she raises the subject. Here it is:

“Of course you can draw, dear. Anyone can draw but drawing doesn’t make you an artist. Art is extremely competitive, and most artists don’t make a decent living.”

“But I could study art in college and get better, right? I could learn how to paint and sell my paintings at shows and stuff?”

“There are other ways to use art, dear. You can study art history or become a librarian. If you want to use your hands, you can go to beauty school and become a hairdresser. There are many careers you can choose if you like art.”

I gawked at her, speechless. She delivered the verdict and the punishment at the same time. She might as well have said, “No, you have no talent, and put away your sketchpad and do my hair.”

She smiled and returned to the countertop. She picked up a can of Pledge, polishing the wood to a yellowish-brown patina. I watched her shine the teak counter to perfection, but she had thrown enough muck on me to sully a landfill. I retreated to my bedroom.

November 29

The Comforter in the Story

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One of my favorite characters in Pages in the Wind is Doctor Lieberman. At first, an unlikely hero, he is everything you would want in a wise man. In many ways, he is the comforter in the story. When things become sad or dark, the doctor makes us feel we can find our way back from a seemingly impossible human condition. I love him. Here is an excerpt from the story, Pages in the Wind.

His glasses had slipped to the edge of his nose. He held his expression, calm but serious. “Your mother hired a team of attorneys to strategize your case. I’m here to help you.”

“But I thought she hired you to help the lawyers find excuses for why I did what I did. Aren’t those mitigating circumstances? Isn’t that what you write in those papers?”

He took a long gulp of coffee. “My intentions are clear. To retrieve your memories and find the defining moments that changed the trajectory of your life. After that, I want to help you rebuild your life. It won’t be the life you had before, but I am hopeful it will be a life you can shape into something worthwhile.”

“Oh, I see. Thank you.” I could have pushed the subject because a worthwhile life in prison seemed unlikely. But I left it alone because his words sounded encouraging, even empowering. I didn’t want to mess with that.

Doctor Lieberman poured himself another cup of coffee and unwrapped a vending machine offering. I put my head down so he couldn’t see me grin. The man never ate anything that didn’t come with a plastic sound.

 

November 18

Reid from Pages in the Wind

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The characters of Pages in the Wind are multi dimensional, like Emily’s early love, Reid Wagner. Emily fell in love with him as a child and their relationship only grew stronger and more complex. He was bold, interesting, brave. Did he live up to her ideal?

This scene illustrates how her eight year old self viewed this unforgettable boy:

“Gee Whiz! I’ve been standing here five minutes!” He plopped down next to me with his elbows on his knees, chin in his hand, staring into space. “Let’s have some fun.”

I waited for him to come up with something, wondering for the millionth time why a ten-year-old hotshot picked me to be his best friend.

Reid redefined average. His hair was a common light brown but was stick-straight until it reached below his ears, forming curls around his neck. His eyes were dark brown, almost black. His lips were full, and his front teeth slightly crooked, in an interesting way. He walked with a slight strut showing confidence and a little conceit. He could be a block away, and I would know him by his walk.