Tag Archives: panic and anxiety disorder

More on Madeline

In my last post, I discussed Madeline’s “weighty” insecurities, and their detrimental effect upon her relationship with Ken. Intertwined with other fears and hang-ups about the opposite sex, these insecurities will ultimately lead to a formidable bout with panic and anxiety disorder (from which she eventually emerges victorious) as part of her own personal growth and spiritual development. In this sense, her insecurities are also a catalyst for positive, profound change in her life, much like Ken himself (although at a conscious level, he’s quite unaware of it).

One of Maddy’s biggest obstacles to success is her inability to fully and clearly articulate her deepest fears and feelings, especially to Ken. To get this point across dramatically in the book I employed italics to denote the thoughts swirling through her head, juxtaposed with her conflicting statements.

There’s a dramatic example of this in Chapter 6, in a scene that also reveals the inner conflict between traditional values and contemporary culture:

“Maddy?” he asked softly, as he traced her arm from shoulder to wrist.

“Mmm-hmm?” She was exquisitely lost in the moment.

“Don’t you ever get curious?”

She turned her body so that she was now looking at him directly.

“Curious about what?”

“You know,” he gave her a telling glance, followed by a raised eyebrow. Then he felt sudden regret for even having asked the question.

But relief washed over him when he saw a smile slowly form on her face. “Well…” she began, her voice trailing off. As desirable as he made her feel and as tempted as she was, there remained an underlying fear, an almost irrational insecurity when it came to this very intimate act between a man and a woman.

For Maddy, it went far beyond the “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” teachings of the Catholic Church, repeated so often throughout her schooling she could almost hear them in her sleep. She’d long ago accepted the validity of these words; indeed, she took them to heart and wanted nothing more than to give herself to her husband—whoever he might turn out to be—for the very first time on their wedding night. It was simply that, as she grew older, she realized how few people, good people, had practically applied the same beliefs. Even Jake in all of his self-righteousness had admitted to sleeping with his college girlfriend, though he claimed that his ensuing guilt over it had been partially to blame for their break-up.

Beyond all of that, Maddy struggled with some deep-rooted insecurity about not being quite good enough, not having a body acceptable enough (she was after all, very small-breasted as Jake had so cruelly reminded her that evening), and not adequately aware enough of how exactly to please a man. And hadn’t she read stories in the hottest women’s fashion magazines about men leaving their wives over sexual dissatisfaction? Hadn’t she seen the endless articles about how to be better in bed?

She wanted so much to confide in him her conflicted emotions, to explain what was held so very deeply within her being. But as with that night in his waterbed, there was a frustrating disconnection between her innermost thoughts and their eloquent expression. All she could manage was some lame answer about how sex belonged within the confines of a marriage. Undeterred, he just smiled at her as he traced the curve of her face.

“I know, sweetheart and I respect that so much,” he assured her in his deep, sexy voice. “I just wondered that’s all. I know I’d like to know what it’s like be with you. Guess I’ll just have to marry you to find out.”

This entire scene is taken from real life, occurring one evening when “Ken” and I were alone on the couch watching television. And just like Maddy, I couldn’t seem to trust him enough to confide all of the complex feelings I was experiencing. Ken’s comment regarding marriage is a direct quote from his flesh-and-blood counterpart, and for the purposes of fiction, also a statement in support of traditional values. Yes, Ken is a 25 year-old young man with raging hormones and burning desires; but he’s also a serious guy who very much wants to marry and settle down with the right woman.  The fact that he’s willing to wait for her is a testament to his strong character. (Too bad Ken’s real life counterpart took a different course of action, one that changed him — or at least my memory of him as a genuine, down-to-earth guy unaffected by the superficial aspects of life — into someone I no longer recognize)

In Chapter 5, readers get a glimpse as to just how deeply Maddy’s previous relationship with Jake Winston has wounded her when — in an intimate moment in Ken’s bedroom, she suddenly has a flashback that propels her to react in harsh opposition to the desires of her heart and body. And although she wants to explain fully the genesis of her discomfort, she cannot bring herself to articulate the words:

Maddy covered her face with her hands, more embarrassed by her overreaction than outraged by Ken’s completely understandable attempt, considering they were all alone in his bedroom. She remained quiet while she tried to gather her composure, wanting so much to find the words to comfort him, to clarify for him the root cause of her discomfort. But it was as if the synchronicity between her thoughts and the physical mechanisms necessary to express them had completely failed her. All she could do was sit there in silence.

But when Ken finally pulled her into a hug, she didn’t resist. Instead, she buried her head in his chest and muffled an emotional apology.

“Nothing to apologize for, sweetheart,” he comforted her. “It’s ok. Everything’s ok.” His voice was a barely audible whisper as they held each other in the translucent beam of moonshine streaming from the window above them.

Ironically, although Ken treats Madeline with the utmost respect and dignity, in a very real sense he’s the one who takes the punishment for Jake’s wrongdoings, simply by being the very next guy to express an interest in her after the breakup. This is also exacerbated by Maddy’s inability to communicate effectively, leaving him frustrated and unsure of her true emotions.

In the pivotal Chapter 19, newly engaged Ken shows up unexpectedly at Madeline’s door to formally announce his status (a reality she’s already aware of intuitively) and to ascertain her feelings about the situation. Perhaps more than any other part of the book, this section is the most dramatic example of the use of italics to denote the dichotomy between what the heart is experiencing and what the head is articulating via the spoken word.

I remember this all too well from real life and can confirm the conversation between Ken and Madeline to be nearly verbatim to the one that transpired between “Ken” and Daria. And like Madeline, part of my motivation for putting on the performance of a lifetime was also a lofty belief in morality, a desire to do the right thing (in my mind) by stepping aside:

“Now how do you feel?” he asked nervously.

How the hell do you think I feel Kenny? You were the one calling and crying on the phone for nearly two years about how much you loved me and missed me; the one who practically begged me to move here in the first place; and the one who kept your live-in girlfriend a secret until there was no turning back! How the hell do you think I feel after uprooting my entire life, hurting my family and having to face the consequences of a misinformed decision alone? How could you deceive me like that? Is this some sort of payback for hurting you?

“Hey, I think it’s great!” she replied brightly. “Congratulations! I’ve been dating a lot myself since I got here. Believe me; I have my own things going on!”

“Well you sure seem as if you’ve changed,” he noted with a twinge of sadness and more than a little confusion. This was not even close to the reaction he was expecting. Maybe Madeline hadn’t loved him after all.

Interesting update: During one of our emotionally charged telephone communications just prior to the release of the book, I told “Ken” that I should have received an Oscar for this performance. There was a moment of stunned silence in which he appeared truly taken aback. Reminiscing on this incident, I am amazed I even had the strength to put on such a compelling show. This was an incredibly painful time for me, one that is thankfully in the past.

For those who haven’t read my analysis of Erin, in that post I allude to Chapter 19 as a foreshadowing of her self-centered shallowness and materialism, and the eventual demise of their marriage as a direct result. Fictional Ken gives it his best shot, but in the end realizes the futility of remaining with a woman whose intellect and emotions run about as deep as a puddle in the South Florida sun — another example of where fiction differs from fact.

Coming Soon: More on Madeline, Philly sports teams and Ken.

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Serendipitous Aspects of the Writing Process, Continued

Halloween 2008: Me as Sarah Palin and my "sister" Theresa as my "Muslim Secret Service Agent".

Aside from a devoted family, there is nothing quite so precious as a loyal, trusted friend. I’ve heard the saying many times, that if you have one good friend, you are truly blessed; I have been blessed infinitely in this area, since I have many dear, loyal friends whom I know have my best interests at heart. One of them is the real-life inspiration behind the character of Elyse Lombard, my beautiful, blonde “adopted sister”, Theresa.

Being the fiercely protective Mama Grizzly (or perhaps more accurately, Big Sista Grizzly) she is, Tre wasn’t shy about expressing her disapproval with my plan to contact the real Ken to apprise him of the nature of the book I was getting close to releasing on the internet. In fact, she was pretty adamant about not going there, offering some pretty compelling reasons to back up her assertion.

And being the strong-willed woman I am, I listened patiently and then determined in my mind to make the call anyway for reasons I mentioned in my last post.  This led to a series of emotionally charged conversations, punctuated with a few serendipitous revelations.

Good friends Kathy (left) and Theresa threw a party to celebrate the publication of Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal.

After checking out the Water Signs website (which I’d given him on the first call), I received a voice mail message from Ken, who appeared to be rather flattered, surprised and even a bit shocked by what he’d read in the synopsis on the home page:

Madeline Rose is a sweet, sheltered and eternally youthful young woman of 25-the youngest child of a prominent Philadelphia neurosurgeon. Despite the unending support of a loving, close family, she battles formidable insecurities, thanks to a recent, bitter break-up with her first real boyfriend and a turbulent adolescence characterized by a few extra pounds. Unsure of her future, she struggles to live up to her potential as well as her highly educated pedigree, given her fortunate placement in an impressive ancestral heritage.

Still adjusting to civilian life after four years in the United States Navy, handsome, affable and ambitious Ken Lockheart has two goals in life: to rise above his blue-collar Shore town roots and to marry his true love. Though the epitome of the classic, all-American male with his boyish good looks, six-foot frame and broad, muscular body, he retains a basic humility borne of a relentless work ethic and an inner drive to succeed.

When a chance encounter in a Somers Point nightclub initiates an unexpected relationship, neither one of them is prepared for the ensuing odyssey of heartbreak, personal growth and spiritual development that fuels their individual life lessons and leads them full-circle to a Divinely guided conclusion.

Although at that point in time the nearly complete, unpublished manuscript was still in a Word doc in my laptop and on a securely hidden CD, the synopsis description alone was enough to affect “Ken” fairly deeply; when we actually spoke, he noted how accurate my description of him had been, how I’d captured the essence of who he was and what he was trying to accomplish in his life.

I can’t recall if it had been that same conversation or one that followed shortly thereafter, but during one particularly heart-wrenching discussion, a few interesting things were revealed — things that seemed to confirm my intuition when crafting dialogue for the characters and/or expressing their thoughts and feelings.

For example, in Chapter 30, as a newly reunited Ken and Madeline are enjoying a cookout in Ken’s new house, they reminisce about past events and resolve previously unsettled matters. Of particular import is Maddy’s memory of a significant holiday they’d spent together:

“That was the best New Year’s Eve I’ve ever had in my entire life,” she confessed softly, thinking back to all of the fun they’d had dancing and joking around with her siblings and their dates at The Media Inn.

And as an author, I invoked creative license to have Ken respond with, “Me, too.”

I had no way of knowing if the character’s human counterpart felt the same way; in fact, I was pretty certain that after 16 long years, he’d probably experienced at least a few New Year’s Eve’s celebrations that far outshone the one we’d spent in a little town in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. After all, in South Florida there’s no shortage of glamorous locales from which to pop the bubbly and make out at midnight. Perhaps he and his wife had once taken a luxury cruise or a trip to the Caribbean to welcome Baby New Year?

Interestingly enough, I’d just completed this chapter when the real Ken and I had this particular phone exchange, prompting me to test the validity of character Ken’s response to Madeline’s statement. Keep in mind, the book was still unpublished at the time; there was absolutely no way he could’ve read this chapter — or any portion of the book, other than what was posted on the website. And that consisted merely of a synopsis, testimonials and an author bio — I hadn’t even gotten to the point of loading selected chapters for preview yet.

So I decided to conduct a little “test” to see if my creativity had unknowingly contained a kernel of truth by telling the real Ken (quite sincerely) that our New Year’s Eve was the best one I ever had. I think I might have even prefaced it by admitting, “As pathetic as it sounds…”

And without missing a beat, flesh-and-blood Ken replied, “It was for me, too.” Which — needless to say — sent shivers up and down my spine, for a myriad of reasons.

Did he actually mean it?

In that moment, I believe he did, although there’s always the possibility he was simply affirming what he thought I wanted to hear.  In any case, the fact that he hadn’t read any portion of the book, yet repeated a line attributed to his character verbatim did leave an impression.

Another interesting enlightenment came when I shared my bout with panic and anxiety disorder, only to discover that he’d also experienced the same problem, concurrent with me. He even related a story about driving down I-95 on his way to make a big corporate presentation, when all of a sudden, overcome with an acute attack of sheer terror (pounding heart, etc), he had to pull over to avoid an accident. I listened with empathy as he noted (paraphrasing), “Here I was, this blue-collar kid from New Jersey about to stand in front of a bunch of corporate bigwigs, feeling I had no right to be there. Who did I think I was?”

“Ken” seemed a  bit rattled (as was I) by this entire exchange, during which he’d also noted “We’re a lot alike, you and I” and announced that he didn’t even think I was that attracted to him, since I tried to avoid being alone with him and maintained some strict boundaries when we were. As a 25-year old young man with “raging hormones” my behavior had been a bit perplexing.

But knowing my family, he understood when one of the many reasons I offered for keeping him at arms’ length was my absolute terror about accidentally becoming pregnant and bringing dishonor to my parents. As I told him, it was probably the most disgraceful, hurtful thing I could ever do, though they would’ve forgiven me (us) eventually. However, with this kind of mood-killing mindset, there’s no way I could’ve simply relaxed and enjoyed it, even if we’d used every type of contraception on the market.

“Can you imagine their reaction if I’d gotten pregnant?” I asked.

“Yeah, your dad would’ve taken me out back with a shotgun,” he laughed.

Which is probably an accurate statement, though I’ve often thought my father would’ve been the calmer parent in this scenario.  I could be wrong, of course. And to this day, even at my age (assuming it could still happen), I’d never want to test my theory. 😉

More intrigue to come in my next post.

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Serendipitous Aspects of the Writing Process

Picking up from my last post, once I’d made the decision to fully explain the concept of Water Signs and the significance of its main male character to his living, breathing human inspiration, there was no talking me out of it. While “Elyse” (my dear friend Theresa, who just like her character, regards me as her little sister) meant well and had only my best interests in mind in attempting to discourage me, I had very compelling reasons for proceeding as planned.

For one thing, as I mentioned, the guy had admitted to Googling me, and chances were pretty high he’d do so again since I did inform him during our conversation that I was writing a novel. For another, while pouring my heart and soul into a fictional tale was indeed, therapeutic, I also realized that I’d now had an opportunity to finally verbalize thoughts and feelings I’d held back in the past. Further, all those years of self-imposed, selective amnesia had contributed in large part to my bout with panic and anxiety disorder (which I’d thankfully overcome), teaching me the importance of working through feelings of hurt, anger and betrayal — rather than simply burying them.

I do find it rather odd that I’d been free of the emotional disorder for over 10 years by the time “Elyse” and I visited our intuitive friend in early 2008 — and that I’d been “cured” without having to relive even one memory of “Ken” or what had transpired between us (including my life-altering move to Florida). At that point, I was still in a state of blissful ignorance where he was concerned — accomplished by a powerful mind and will determined to do anything necessary to survive.

Yet, that significant day in early 2008, prompted by an intuitive woman’s use of the man’s proper name, a tidal wave of repressed memories  overpowered me until I had no choice but to do something meaningful with the “new” revelations. But was its purpose simply to be a catalyst for me to write my first novel? Or was it also a chance to finally express the previously unexpressed thoughts and feelings I’d pent up inside all the years I’d been in “survival mode”?

I deduced that since “Ken” was still alive and kickin’ I therefore had the opportunity to clear out some misunderstandings from the past with him directly — even if none of it mattered to him at all (which was also a very real possibility, hence Theresa/Elyse’s sisterly concern for my emotional wellbeing).

When I think back to the day of that reading, I am still amazed. In all the years I’d known my friend Tre, and as close as the two of us had become (more like family, especially in the wake of her little nephew’s untimely illness and death — an event that’s mentioned in the novel) I’d never once confided in her about “Ken”, for the reasons stated above.

And when his proper first name initially came up in the reading, I honestly had no idea who it was; in fact, I assumed the woman was referring to a member of my extended family — until she clarified quite emphatically that no, it was not a family member, but a romantic interest from my past. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, although I didn’t pursue it further with her. I didn’t want to go down that path. Hadn’t I worked hard enough to “kill him off” in my mind? Why open up this Pandora’s Box now?

But it was too late.

On the ride home in the car with Tre, I finally gave in to pent-up emotion and apprised her of the entire, heart-breaking tale, memories of which immediately began to overpower me in the aftermath of my reading. She listened with empathy, rather stunned that in the course of a such a close, familial-like friendship wherein each of us had confided so many intensely personal secrets — including relationships with men — I’d never once mentioned “Kenneth”, the man indirectly responsible for the fact that I even knew her (or any of my good friends in South Florida).

That day marked the beginning of the evolution of Water Signs, a book I’d complete in just under four months.

More to come in my next post.

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Panic & Anxiety Disorder in Water Signs

Without a doubt, the most difficult part of the Water Signs writing process was incorporating my real-life bout with panic and anxiety disorder into Madeline’s experiences as my fictional counterpart. While overall, this book literally flew out of my imagination and memory and onto my computer screen — seemingly with a life of its own — choosing to include the darkest period of my life into the story presented its own unique set of challenges.

No, I never faced the dreaded “writer’s block” at any point along the way, but I did have to overcome some serious resistance to pulling out and perusing some very old journals chronicling that entire, frightening phase. As strange as it may seem, while I was at my lowest point in the battle, I’d journal every day without fail — but I would never go back and read the previous day’s submission. I’d just turn to a fresh page and start writing. And when I’d fill up a book, I’d put it away with all of the others, never to be opened again. Or so I believed.

It’s kind of hard to create a compelling narrative without the use of proper description, which mandated pulling out all of those handwritten journals and figuring out which elements to include in the book. But even though  by that point I’d been free and clear of panic and anxiety disorder for well over a decade, I encountered tremendous internal resistance. For anyone who’s already read the book and remembers this portion of the story, it’s probably easy to understand why.

Eventually I worked up the courage to do it, but not before playing an emotional game with myself whereby  I actually skipped ahead and literally wrote the happy ending — which was a bit tricky from an editing standpoint when I then had to go back and fill in several earlier chapters. I suppose my unorthodox method worked because every time I’d read a particularly heart-wrenching entry in my journal, I’d remind myself of two things 1.) No matter how horrific it got, it was in the past and it could no longer hurt me; and 2.) I was working my way up to a magnificent conclusion, which in order to retain an air of unbridled triumph and victory, had to be preceded by a tough, seemingly hopeless struggle, a “dark night of the soul” kind of thing.

Still, reading those journals and being hit with the stark reality of just how bad things were at one point in my life was jarring, to say the least.

One thing I’ve learned from the countless readers who’ve come forward to thank me for writing about panic disorder in the book, and to share their own battles with this emotional menace  is that it seems to be an intensely personal experience. That while there are common symptoms — racing heart, pounding head, feeling of wanting to jump out of your skin — others are not shared by all afflicted.

In my case, one of the strangest and scariest was described in Water Signs like this:

But most distressing was a new and chilling sensation she could only describe to her father as a ‘tightening of my spine’. During these frequent and unpredictable moments, her legs and arms would suddenly feel limp and lifeless, though still fully functional. This was preceded  by a palpable sensation at the base of her neck, whereby she’d swear some invisible ‘puppet master’ was literally pulling her strings and forcing her into submission. All of these symptoms were now accompanied by vivid nightmares that typically featured disturbing images — from snake-pits and fire-breathing dragons to evil men in masks wielding AK-47s.

It might be of passing interest to note that at the time (1996), I was not really up to speed on radical Islamic terror, though I certainly knew about the unrest in the Middle East and remembered significant events like the Iranian Hostage Crisis. And although I didn’t include this in the book, somewhere around that time I had an awful nightmare in which my oldest brother Mark and I were captured by terrorists, who forced me to watch while they murdered him. Like I said, chilling stuff.

Another point of interest in my experience with panic and anxiety disorder is that although most people associate it with acute, intense attacks, they were typically rare for me. Did I have full-blown anxiety attacks? Absolutely. But unlike many others, mine occurred maybe about once a year throughout the entire five-year duration. But when they did happen, they came on with a vengeance as described in Chapter 18:

But soon after they’d arrived, the pulsating rhythms and flashing strobe lights suddenly changed from energizing dance accoutrements to instruments of torture. In reaction to these typical club stimuli, Maddy’s heart began to race out of control, vying for first place with her head, which pounded ferociously. These sensations were accompanied by that frightening fight-or-flight response, compelling her to run as far and as fast as she could to some unknown destination. On this particular evening, Maddy followed her impulses back to the parking lot, oblivious to the freezing temperatures.

Her dance partner had trailed right behind and insisted on taking her to Shore Memorial, where a nurse attached a clip to her finger and proclaimed that Maddy was getting plenty of oxygen, despite her protests to the contrary. And though she saw the blinking green indicators that confirmed this sound medical opinion, she remained unconvinced. That belief only intensified with the nurse’s subsequent announcement that the patient was suffering from the flu — perfectly understandable given the recent outbreak.

There’s nothing quite so frustratingly embarrassing as trying to convince a medical professional that –while it might not be of physical origin — something is seriously wrong with you.  In this particular instance, as with most others, I usually nodded right along with them, temporarily accepting the fact that no one ever would understand exactly what it was I was grappling with. For a while, it just seemed simpler and easier to concede.

But as I said, hyperventilating attacks were not a common occurrence for me, thank God. However, the symptoms I dealt with on a daily basis were not exactly fun either:

But even though the acute onset of symptoms seemed to have subsided, a persistent general feeling of uneasiness had taken over, accompanied by relentless headaches, stomach pains and occasional bouts with alternating sweats and chills. All of this continued apace without regard for the fact that she’d dutifully gone back on the Pill at her doctor’s insistence, thus experiencing regular, if false, periods.

While hormones no doubt did play a part in this unwanted drama — exacerbated  by the Pill, which at the time was the apparent cure-all for everything — ultimately panic and anxiety disorder is an emotional problem, not a mental or physical one (although the emotions adversely affect the physical body). Years later, Arbonne’s natural progesterone cream solved every problem I ever had of the female variety; if only I’d discovered it sooner. Better late than never, though, and I am thankful for happening upon such a simple solution by the time I hit my early 30s.

As for the panic phase of my life, encountering the “remote viewer” I discussed in a previous post was an absolute Godsend. But just as the problem affects everyone differently, its solution may also be unique to each sufferer.  That’s why my advice is to never give up, to keep seeking out potential solutions and trying everything that has the potential to help you without actually hurting you. Far be it from me to encourage anyone to see a psychic if that conflicts with their religious beliefs; I can only honestly report how my real-life story went down. I long ago made peace with the fact that my cure came from an unlikely source, one I will never believe came from a place of evil.

Perhaps when I get to the end of my life, I’ll find out differently (I pray this is not the case). For now, all I can say is that thanks to a psychic, I said good riddance to panic and anxiety disorder forever.

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Sunday Inspiration

“Seize the day. Pray for grace from God’s hand, then nothing will stand in your way.”

I discovered this wonderful song thanks to my friend Sabrina, who included it as part of a collection of inspirational music she’d burned onto CDs for Christmas gifts last year. Just like daily prayer time, listening to motivating music helps keep me focused, strong and firm in my beliefs, and in the accomplishment of my dreams.  No matter what may be going on around me, especially things I cannot control, I do know I am fulfilling God’s purpose for me by using the gifts He’s given me — the ability to write, speak and communicate effectively.

Writing professionally has been the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do from the time I was old enough to tell everyone around me, but it’s also one of those “impractical” career choices — much like acting or singing — that through which few find meaningful success. No, it wasn’t my parents who warned me about that; quite the opposite. They encouraged my dreams, particularly with every A+ essay, book report or teacher conference in which my budding skills were highly praised. And when it was time to go to high school, I was assigned to Advanced Placement (AP) English classes, where my love for reading and writing was expertly guided along by some fabulous teachers, including Mrs. Fenning (RIP).

Truth be told, I was the one who killed my dream before even giving it a chance to materialize. Instead of listening to my own God-given guidance and heeding the encouragement of family, I decided it would be just too hard to make a go of it as an aspiring journalist, opinion writer and novelist. But even while I spent many years working hard and trying to adjust to various corporate positions with varying degrees of compatibility to my skills set, I kept up with my handwritten journals. And especially during the “Ken” and early-Florida-years phase, I wrote copiously in lovely, hard-cover books with floral designs, which ended up being an invaluable resource when I finally sat down to write Water Signs some 14 years later.

Writing is also therapy, and I am convinced that — along with everything else I did — including the successful session I eventually took with the “remote viewer”, it played a significant role in ridding me of panic and anxiety disorder forever. Unsurprisingly, as I look back on that experience, I can also see how suppressing my real career goals and rejecting my life’s purpose also contributed to the emotional disorder, along with the deep-seated matters of the heart. (I will devote a post soon exclusively to panic and anxiety disorder, in the hope it will be helpful to others who may struggling with this formidable problem).

When the phenomenon known as the internet came along, and with it blogs, print-on-demand and social media in the 2.0 phase, I saw that as my opportunity to finally go for it, professionally speaking. This amazing technology has made it possible to showcase my work to an unlimited audience, network with people all around the world, connect with like-minded individuals, and via sites like You Tube, enhance every entry with an appropriate song or video.

At last, I achieved my childhood dream of writing a novel, and was able to publishing without having to grovel to a literary agent, or cope with one rejection letter after another. I could write exactly what I wanted, and present my work directly to my audience — no dream-killing gatekeeper required.

I was even able to expand into other areas previously not thought of, such as talk radio hosting, which has enhanced my political activism, commentary, blogging and novel-writing.

Speaking of which, here’s the link to last night’s Conservative Republican ForumThe Liberty Belle Hour is currently on hiatus while I search for a new home.

Have a great Sunday and seize the day!

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Literary Techniques Used In Water Signs

Taking a digression from the discussion of the themes of Water Signs, I wanted to share some of the literary techniques I employed to help bring the story to life. As someone who believes good fiction should engage the reader to the point where he or she loses all concept of space and time, it was important to me that my book have the same all-consuming effect. Thus, I used several different techniques to create a “mental vacation” for the reader and underscore the points I was trying to make through plot and characters.

So here they are, in no particular order:

Italics – A significant factor in Madeline’s personal development is learning how to effectively confront people and circumstances when warranted. Throughout most of the novel, this is a daunting challenge for her. To denote this element of her personality and allow readers a window into her real thoughts and motivations, I employed italics. One of the most dramatic examples occurs in Chapter 19, when Ken forthrightly asks her how the news of his engagement makes her feel. Unlike Ken, readers get the truthful answer, immediately followed by her articulation of a lie she deems honorable and necessary under the circumstances:

How the hell do you think I feel Kenny? You were the one calling and crying on the phone for nearly two years about how much you loved me and missed me; the one who practically begged me to move here in the first place; and the one who kept your live-in girlfriend a secret until there was no turning back! How the hell do you think I feel after uprooting my entire life, hurting my family and having to face the consequences of a misinformed decision alone? How could you deceive me like that? Is this some sort of payback for hurting you?

“Hey, I think it’s great!” she replied brightly. “Congratulations! I’ve been dating a lot myself since I got here. Believe me; I have my own things going on!”

Look for this technique throughout the novel.

MusicWater Signs spans sixteen years in the lives of its two main characters — 1992-2008. In order to help readers identify with the changing time period throughout the story, and relate more deeply to Ken and Madeline’s world, particular songs and artists are mentioned. Some of these were chosen specifically for their relevance to real life, while others either fit the narrative at a particular juncture perfectly, or reflect the characters’ Philly-area roots.

For example, in Chapter One, Ken and Maddy’s first slow dance takes place to Elton John’s The One, which debuted during the summer of 1992 and immediately became one of my favorites.

In Chapter Three, as the two characters are driving to Atlantic City — site of their first official date — in Ken’s black Acura (another detail taken from real life), Maddy asks him to stop switching the radio dials when Jon Secada’s Just Another Day starts blaring through the speakers. That’s also a page (no pun intended) out of real life, with the song being a 1992 hit with both the characters and their living, breathing counterparts.

In Chapter 23, Madeline performs her own unique rendition of the song, On My Own, from Les Miserables, for her dance studio’s local production. As I’ve mentioned before, singing beautifully and powerfully was something I’ve always wished I could do, but alas was not in God’s plan for me. Thus I took some creative license as an author and infused the character based on me with that very talent. I chose this particular song for two reasons: 1.) to dramatically underscore the melancholy circumstances of Madeline’s life at this point in the book; and 2.) to pay homage to my very favorite Broadway show.  However, like Madeline I am also a ballroom dancer, and I did participate in a Fred Astaire showcase in Boca Raton, as part of a group tango!

In Chapter 30, The Spinners’ Then Came You, not only retells the love story between the two main characters, but also recalls their native metropolitan Philadelphia origins.

Sports – In Water Signs as in real life, professional sports play a significant role. When crafting the novel, I endeavored to recreate the culture of the Philadelphia/South Jersey area (site of Part One) and South Florida (site of Part Two) via the incorporation of real-life sporting events. Much of this occurs as a remembrance uttered by a character over a breakfast or dinner conversation, such as when Maddy relates her experience as a young teenager at the 1980 World Series, and at the 1981 NFC Championship Game when her beloved Eagles beat the Cowboys, 20-7. Both of these are an example of art imitating life, as is Dr. Rose’s passionate devotion to the Phillies.

Food – As part of bringing regional culture and tradition to both a new and familiar audience, much of the activity in Water Signs revolves around popular foods and delicacies. Maddy and Ken’s beach picnic, for example, features provolone cheese from South Philly, homemade Italian wedding cookies and “tomato pie” (a special pizza-like creation first introduced to the area by a South Philly bakery in the 1900s).

Humorous Side Note: When I spoke at the Hawthorne Writers Group last fall in North Jersey (about 20 miles from Manhattan), I thought it would be fun to bring wedding cookies (baked by yours truly) and tomato pie. Although I knew the latter was mainly found in South Jersey, I’d assumed it had finally made its way north, for the simple fact that it is absolutely scrumptious. After several fruitless calls to North Jersey bakeries and pizza shops,  I realized the Philly-area delicacy was nowhere to be found anywhere north of Trenton. So I ordered it from a local suburban place near my parents’ home and transported it by car. Thankfully, it survived the 2 1/2 hour trek unscathed (and uneaten). 🙂

Technology – One of the most enjoyable aspects of tracing the progression from 1992 to 2008 was referencing the various technology used by my characters. When the story opens, “car phones” are the latest rage, as evidenced by an excited Lori happily showing off the one that came with her brand-new Pontiac Bonneville (an actual event borrowed from reality) to her younger sister and her new beau. As the plot progresses, Madeline notes the heretofore unknown and excessive use of cell phones and pagers in South Florida (circa 1995). By the time we arrive near the end of the first decade of the new millennium, she is employed as a content manager for a company that specializes in online marketing for the hospitality industry, a fictional career based on the fact that I did indeed work as a content writer for a Boca Raton-based company, creating e-proposals for major hotel chains.

JuxtapositionWater Signs is about the journey, not the destination. Therefore, readers know the ending from the moment they read the prologue, demanding a compelling narrative on the part of the author to keep them turning the pages. In addition to the other methods mentioned, the use of juxtaposition was a great help in building suspense, beginning in Chapter One. It opens with Madeline and Carmen crossing the Walt Whitman Bridge and then speeding down the Atlantic City Expressway, their conversation informing readers of their backgrounds, motivations and plans for the evening ahead. Before long, the chapter shifts to a back-and-forth narrative that alternates between the girls’ arrival at the club to Kenny’s reluctant preparation in front of the mirror for a night of drinking and dancing (which also serves as his initial introduction to readers). This technique continues throughout the novel, with most chapters picking right up where the previous one left off.

Branding – Another method through which the culture and traditions of Philly, South Jersey and South Florida come alive for readers is branding. In Part One, I make several references to familiar retail chains and brands throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Jersey Shore including Wawa convenience stores, Tastykake commercial baked goods; water ice (known to the rest of the country as flavored Italian ices); soft pretzels, Herr’s potato chips and Turkey Hill ice cream. In Part Two, Maddy gets stood up by the character of Mark Donnelly, who was supposed to take her to Sunfest (an unfortunate incident taken from my own experience AND an annual festival held in West Palm Beach); several chapters later, she and Ken reunite over lunch at The Samba Room, a popular restaurant chain in South Florida.

Side Note: I did once work in downtown Fort Lauderdale, where I also shared a few lunches with former co-workers at this particular Samba Room location, thus the inspiration for using it as the setting for Madeline and Ken’s long-awaited meeting.

Water Imagery – Aside from obviously paying homage to the book’s title, the use of water imagery also evokes a dream-like quality within the narrative, and supports the interwoven concepts of renewal and reconciliation. On a basic level, the coastal locations of the story, the characters’ shared Pisces sign and Ken’s US Navy service contribute to Water Signs’ “escapist” quality, conjuring up images of beach-inspired beauty, majestic ocean waves, colorful fish swimming beneath the sea’s surface and American heroes serving their country on awe-inspiring aircraft carriers.

But on a much deeper level, water is a symbol of rebirth in traditional religious customs and spiritual practices. It is also a symbol of the emotions, which play a significant role in character development, particularly for Maddy. She suffers for years with panic and anxiety disorder — a gross distortion of the emotions that negatively impacts the physical body — without actually knowing what it is — until she reads the packaging for the medication prescribed by her doctor. Prior to her unusual cure by a psychic, the only time she finds relief from her sometimes frightening symptoms is when she’s immersed in water, whether swimming in a pool, riding a wave in the ocean or standing under the pulsating refreshment of a hot shower.

Ken, although not a co-sufferer with this affliction, often heads to the beach or to the Deerfield Fishing Pier when life seems overwhelming. In Part Two, when rocked by Maddy’s unexpected arrival in Florida — blissfully unaware of his engagement to another woman — the pier is his destination of choice when he seeks his mother’s counsel in person.

Side Note: When I first moved to Florida, I’d often go to this pier for my own consolation, which is why it is also the setting for Maddy’s date with Mark (another fact turned into fiction). Today, I still visit there frequently as this section of Deerfield Beach also boasts plenty of retail and mom-and-pop stores and restaurants, as well as a beautiful, two-mile sidewalk along the beach.

More to come in another post!

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