Villains. They’re interesting to write and sometimes fun to hate. My upcoming book, Brooklyn Bitters, has a “love to hate” villain. The villain in Pages in the Wind, however, is evil. He makes you uncomfortable and can bring up some intense feelings. In this passage, Emily walks in on the villain who is about to manipulate her:
I stepped into the front room and rolled my eyes, recognizing Father’s Pierre Cardin slacks underneath a newspaper. I tried to sneak past him.
I cringed at the sound of paper crumpling.
“What are you doing?” he asked. He smoothed the newspaper and placed it on the coffee table.
“Not much.” The question and the folded paper told me he wanted a confrontation. I didn’t. I decided to do my time and leave quickly. Indifference was my best weapon. Of course, it’s play-acting because every word he had ever said to me was like stepping on dog feces; no matter how hard I scraped the bottom of my shoe, it still stunk.
He looked like he’d just returned from the stylist; his hair was short on the sides and wavy on top. He wore a fitted yellow shirt, slacks, and a two-toned belt, which matched his expensive Italian shoes. I chewed the inside of my mouth to prevent the scowl that begged to come out. He enjoyed Grandma’s money, and all he ever did for her was change a few light bulbs and beat her granddaughter.
One of my favorite poems is The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. I’ve thought of the road so often in my life, not just for myself, but for people I love. It’s especially hard for parents, when they want the best for a child but the child goes the other way no matter what you say. Eventually, you have to let go…in spite of heartache and worry. You have no choice because you aren’t helping. They don’t hear you. So, you pray they will find their way back and reach their own understanding. I have found, in my own life, that the easy road is seldom the right one…and a loving family member is always the one to listen to.
Robert, in Pages in the Wind, convinces his sister to move to Boston for a new life. But when a boy she loves returns, she rejects her brother’s plan to get her away from a horrid situation and chooses to stay with the boy. But not without seconds thoughts…that may prove to be too late:
The jet climbed into the darkness. The promise of a new life away from Father, Lesley College, and studying art was gone. My body sagged, overcome with guilt that I couldn’t make Robert understand that I had to follow the yearning in my heart. I turned, wiped the tears away, and began walking in the direction of my life with Reid.
I had to turn around. A strange breeze lingered, whispering in my ear, warning me to consider my brother’s words. Robert had told me home was very dark and begged me not to go back there. He said I didn’t have enough light to fight Father. He would have explained everything on the plane. Now I might never know. I looked up and stared at the empty space where he had flown away. Something in the dark void warned me I lost much more than a promise of a new life.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
I 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.
She’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.
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.
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.