Tag Archives: writing process

Random Thoughts on the Writing Process

A good Facebook friend and aspiring author/writer recently asked for my advice regarding the length of chapters. Is it something predetermined before even putting thoughts to paper (or keyboard to monitor)? Or is it advisable to just write and see how it all plays out?

An excellent question for sure, and one for which I am not entirely certain there is a correct answer. As I’ve noted many times, the process by which I wrote Water Signs was highly unusual and most likely, unrepeatable. In another post, I described the circumstances that opened the floodgate of memories that led to the steady stream of consciousness that ultimately resulted in a 435-page novel. The words literally came through me from a higher place, and in most cases, I didn’t have to consciously or deliberately think about the mundane mechanics of the work itself. I intuitively knew when to end one chapter and begin another — though most ended up being 20 pages or so in length.

With Sea To Shining Sea, I am attempting quite deliberately to maintain that 20-page chapter limit, since it was very effective the first time around. But there’s a little more to it than that. For example, one of the literary techniques I employed successfully in Water Signs was flashback — whether to an event long-ago or in the recent past. So I would in effect, finish a chapter — leading the reader to believe they knew everything there was to know about the events contained therein, only to discover some new insights about the same event(s) in the next chapter. This helped to create a little more intrigue and drama.

Keep in mind also that I am a creative type who knew from the start I wasn’t going to follow the traditional publishing path, i.e. jump through all kinds of hoops to entice a literary agent, including conducting research on my genre at a book store. With the advent of Print-on-Demand and social media, I realized that a new and wondrous vehicle to reach  my audience and achieve success awaited me. So I was pretty much unconcerned with “trivial” things like chapter length, outline, competing titles and authors within my category, market research and all of the other things publishing houses obsess over (and demand that their potential authors research on their own time, with no guarantee of getting the contract anyway).

So put me in the “just write it” camp. You can always go back and edit later. Write from the heart and get ‘er done. That’s my advice.

While we’re on the topic, some other fascinating things occurred during the evolution of Water Signs — and here’s where the fusion of fact and fiction was at its most enjoyable. When I determined (somewhere around Chapter Eight) that this book was actually going to come into being very soon, I decided to take a proactive approach and search for the person who inspired Ken. For the record, my best friend (on whom the character of Elyse is based, and the same one who was there when I had the reading that ended my selective amnesia about this guy) thought it was a terrible idea.  In fact, she tried her best to talk me out of it. Ironically, she’s bumped into “Erin” unexpectedly a few times this year at business functions — something that had never happened before in all of her 25 years of living in Boca Raton. But I will discuss that at length when I explore the female friendships of Water Signs.

I am not sure if stubbornness is also a Pisces trait, or merely a personality foible, but I am the kind of person who — once I make a decision about something — cannot be convinced otherwise. For good or bad, I’m in.

So just like Madeline in Chapter 27 (after having a reading similar to the real ones I experienced, though altered a bit for dramatic purposes) sits down and pens a letter to Ken, I did the same with “Ken”. Though taken from real life, the one readers discover is a little more flowery and poetic than the one I wrote:

Dear Ken,

How are you? I can’t even imagine how you might feel right now, holding this letter in your hand. I mean, how long has it been? About a million years? And yet in so many ways, it feels like yesterday.

I don’t know what it is about 2008, but ever since this year began, I have had a palpable feeling that everything was coming full circle somehow. It took me a few months to realize exactly what that meant, but now I have no doubt it involves you—and some important things I’d left undone and unsaid. Things you really need to know.

It’s strange that you would be on my mind now; I can’t explain why this is suddenly the case since I hadn’t thought about you much at all over the years. For my own survival, I’d willfully blocked you out of my thoughts to the point where it was as if you never existed in the first place. There was just no way I could’ve been your friend, not in any sort of active way, at least. It was just too painful to see you with another woman, so I did the only thing I could do. You made your choice; I made mine. I even concocted a story to tell people whenever they would ask me why I moved to Florida. And the mind is such a powerful thing that I actually believed it myself.

Look, I know it is ancient history, but I am so very sorry for everything I ever said or did to hurt you. You were so good to me, so kind and caring. If I had a time machine, I am certain I would go back and make very different decisions where you were concerned. If I could go back with the knowledge I have now, I would understand just what I’d had in you. In many ways, you were so much more mature. You saw qualities within me that I was unable or unwilling to see for myself. And I never truly appreciated that.

You once told me that I inspired you; but the truth is you inspired me, too. I never realized just what a catalyst you have been in my life. These last fourteen years have been an incredible personal and spiritual growth journey, one that would not have been possible without you. While I’ve endured some pretty traumatic experiences (along with good ones), I can see now how every seemingly insurmountable obstacle, every hour of darkness, every tear shed in moments of anguish, have all contributed to making me the mature, self-adjusted woman I am today.

There are absolutely incredible people in my life that I am blessed to call friends, my writing career is finally in full swing and my health is excellent (warm weather definitely agrees with me). Perhaps most significantly, my faith is stronger than it has ever been in my entire life. I owe all of this to you. Ken, you opened my eyes. You made me realize that the world—my world—was more expansive and wonderful than I’d ever imagined.

This may or may not be appropriate, but I want you to know that no man before or after you has ever treated me with the same amount of respect, affection and concern. Sadly, at 25, I didn’t know what I had. You were everything I didn’t know I wanted. Yes, hindsight, as they say, really is 20/20. And no matter where you are or what you are doing, I hope it makes you feel good to know just how much you have positively impacted my life. At least, that is the intention of this letter.

Anyway, I am sure you are an awesome father, and I pray that you are well and happy. Take care of yourself and God bless!

Madeline

In this same chapter, I employed the literary technique of juxtaposition, to create more intrigue throughout the sections following the letter, which is where it also becomes a fusion of fact and fiction. Just like Maddy, I believed it safer to mail the letter to the home of the guy’s parents, who happen to live in the same town. But since I had no way of knowing how it all went down from there,  I had to use my imagination. Thus, in the very next scene, Ken’s mother Paula Lockheart is engaged in an active power-walk in her neighborhood, while musing about all of the recent events in her son’s life. This is also where we learn of Paula’s deep-seated affection and love for her son:

Paula Lockheart looked at her pedometer and picked up the pace as she conducted her customary late-morning power walk. An attractive woman in her late-60’s, she was diligent about remaining active and eating right to maintain good health. After all, she had two adorable grandchildren to see into adulthood. And now that her youngest son had endured a bitter custody battle and an acrimonious divorce, she was more determined than ever to support him and his offspring.

She’d always been so proud of Ken; from the time he was a little boy, he’d been her most affectionate and devoted son. Even as a newborn, she’d noticed something different—and wonderful—about her “baby.” His soulful blue eyes showcased a natural exuberance and passion for life. And despite their modest means, she knew from the very beginning that her fourth and last child was destined to be a success in every sense of the word.

So when she bumps into her mailman and enters her air-conditioned home with a stack of mail, she’s intrigued by the pink envelope addressed to her son, conspicuously missing the name of the sender, although bearing a return address. By this time, we’ve also found out that Paula is an intuitive mother who nevertheless makes it a practice to refrain from interfering in her children’s lives. Using more flashback, I have the character reminisce about Ken’s heart-wrenching dilemma many years prior when “the girl from Media” shocked him by actually relocating to Florida. Engaged to another woman, we learn that Ken had met his mother at the Deerfield Beach Fishing Pier to talk things out. And true to her nature, a sympathetic Paula listens but does not offer any advice other than to follow his heart.

The Deerfield Beach Fishing Pier, one of the places my characters head to when trying to solve a difficult challenge or make a heart-wrenching decision.

All of this, dear readers, is a product of my imagination, conjured up at this particular juncture of the story to flesh out the character of Paula Lockheart (whom we’d only known through Ken up to this point), and clue readers in to some other previously unknown events that had taken place.

However, Ken’s reaction to the news, and Madeline’s concurrent visit to Disney World with her mother is a blend of fact and fiction. In real life, my mom and I took a few days to head to Orlando during one of her visits here to South Florida. We’d left on a Sunday and came back on a Wednesday night, making the 2 1/2 hour trip via car. And the night we got back, I listened to my voice mail and discovered a message from “Ken”, recorded on the Sunday of our departure (so I must’ve just missed him) and apprising me of his mom’s calling to inform him of the letter.

But the little fantasy he plays out in his mind while waiting to leave the voicemail is an example of creative license on the part of the author:

Ken felt his heart pound in his chest as he listened to the familiar ring tone and eagerly anticipated hearing the sounds of her sweet voice again. A few moments later he did, though it was via voicemail, and not the live version: Hi, this is Madeline Rose. I can’t take your call right now, but it is really important to me. Please leave me a message and I promise to return your call just as soon as I can. Talk to you soon and have a great day!

As her outgoing message played, he felt for the first time in over fifteen years the welcome bolt of electricity igniting his soul and coursing through his body; suddenly, it was 1992 again, and he and Maddy were making out on his waterbed, while the moonlight filtered through the skylight above them.

His hands caressed her face as he gazed into her expressive amber eyes. Nestled beneath his body, he could feel her heart beating fast while he placed his lips tenderly on hers, and then eventually tasted the sweetness of her mouth with his soft, subtle tongue. Maddy sighed, returning his advances with equal amounts of passion and fervor. In the background, the sensual sounds of their favorite music amplified their desires, steadily leading them on a mesmerizing path of fulfillment for body, mind and soul.

“Kenny?” Her voice was a mere whisper as he nibbled at her ear. He brought his face close to hers.

“Yes?” Her fingers traced the waves of his blond hair as she made her request.

“I want you to make love to me.”

Happily stunned, but wanting to confirm the words he’d been longing to hear ever since meeting her, he studied her face for a moment before asking, “You sure, sweetheart? ‘Cause you know I’d like nothing better than to make passionate love to you all night. I just need to know it’s what you really want, too. Otherwise, it won’t—”

Madeline answered him with a kiss that left him breathless as he proceeded to slowly unbutton her blouse to reveal her delicate, porcelain skin and the black lace of her bra. He began to trace kisses down her neck, working his way down to the curve of her breasts as he gently moved his hands over her. In the next moment, he carefully slid the garment off of her body and shifted her on top of him as he moved onto his back in one smooth move.

With her auburn hair cascading past her shoulders and her fair skin gleaming in the soft light, she far exceeded any vision of beauty he’d previously held in mind, both as an adolescent and a young man sailing around the world. He reached around her back to unhook the last trace of clothing from her chest, barely able to contain his excitement as delicious thoughts of finally seeing and experiencing every inch of her petite, curvy body conflicted with genuine concern for this being her very first time, and his desire to make it as beautiful for her as possible.

The whole concept of the “first time” is one that weaves its way throughout the entire novel because it is inextricably intertwined with the traditional values the characters espouse — which are simultaneously a cause of tension and heartbreak via Ken and Madeline’s  inability to communicate effectively with each other.

Back to the voicemail.

The one Ken records in the novel is almost identical to the one “Ken” left for me. And the conversation the characters have the next morning — the first in several years — is faithful to the actual event.

More on the fusion of fact and fiction in my next post.

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Guidelines on Fictionalizing Facts into a Novel, Part One

Now that we’ve discussed copyright laws, and the obligation to remain mum about your “fictional” characters for legal, moral and ethical reasons, let’s turn to the process by which real people become characters in a novel. This of course, is based on my own experience of writing Water Signs, so the information is purely subjective, and intended as helpful advice to others embarking upon the same kind of adventure.

Since there is so much I want to share with my fellow authors, I am breaking the topic down into several posts, to allow me to concentrate on specific characters in my book, in order to support my statements.

My novel is infused with many themes: first love, second chances, family, faith in God, personal resiliency, patriotism, traditional values vs. modern-day society, reconciliation, The American Dream (embodied by two specific characters, Ken Lockheart and Dr. Joseph Rose), and spirtual/personal growth. I explore and uphold these themes through the use of characters, plot, circumstances and symbolism. But for this particular post, I will focus on characters, as it ties in with the practice of basing them on actual people.

So let’s start with my hero, Kenneth Lockheart. Also known as Ken and Kenny in the novel, he is modeled after a real guy I met and dated back in 1992. At the time, he seemed so much larger than life, as although we were both young adults of 25 (yes, I am giving away my age…:), “Ken” had already amassed so much more life experience, having spent four years in the United States Navy. An outgoing, energetic, intelligent and good-looking man, I was blown away by the fact that he’d summed up his young life and decided if he wanted to go after his dreams of a college education (something his parents could not provide), meaningful career and eventual wife and family, he had to go after it himself.

While this might not sound so unusual to my readers, as the youngest child of a successful surgeon, whose parents were determined to provide all of their children with a college education, it was a refreshing change for me. My dad, affectionately known as “Dr. Al” on Blog Talk Radio, was the child of Italian immigrants who supported him emotionally, but did not have the financial means to finance his dreams of higher education. Thus, beginning with high school and continuing on through medical school, my father worked several jobs, always grateful for the opportunity to achieve something greater, thanks to the USA (more on that later).

When he became a father himself,  Dr. Al was adamant about removing as many obstacles for his children as possible. Thus, I never had to worry about attending college; it was a given in my family that — at the very least — a Bachelor’s Degree would be the path for every DiGiovanni child (with the exception of my exceptional brother Ralph, a Down’s guy who achieved his own remarkable success. More on him later).

Back in 1992, I’d just come out of a very painful breakup with a guy (my first boyfriend) who’d spent a lot of time criticizing me, whether for my fashion choices, hair color or weight (years later, he sincerely apologized and we put the past behind us, which is another plot point in the story). Having come through a challenging adolescence, during which an extra 10-15 pounds made my life miserable in terms of my desirability among high school boys, I was still carrying around the unwanted emotional baggage of this relationship, along with my previous disappointments pertaining to the opposite sex. And although I’d lost most of the weight and had become — in the eyes of most others — a beautiful, sweet and attractive young woman, it was nearly impossible to see myself that way.

Which brings me back to Ken. When we “accidentally” ended up hanging out together at a Somers Point, New Jersey nightclub, I couldn’t reconcile in my mind his interest in me, expressed through conversation, hugs, high-fives and chaste kisses on the cheek. And the more I learned of his independence and self-sufficiency, the more impressed (and somewhat intimidated) I was.

To this day, no man prior and no man after him has treated me with the same genuine respect, admiration and affection. So when crafting the story, I realized that the Ken character had to be larger-than-life, in order to set him up as a stark contrast to the other men Madeline dates in the novel. Thus when readers meet Ken, they see a hard-working, optimistic, traditional, intelligent and determined young man who believes in his dreams and pursues them with passion. He knows the blue-collar job he’s currently holding is a means to an end, a way to keep himself going  financially, save for the future and figure out his next moves.

All of that is very true to the real man, along with his physical description. Sure, I could have changed eye/hair color, stature, physical build and place of residence (on this last point, my advice is to stick with the places you know, if indeed your novel is based on real life…what a time-saver!). I chose not to do that. This is obviously a personal decision for each author, but for me, authenticity is paramount. So while I did change the names for all of the obvious reasons, I wanted to remain as faithful as possible to his other characteristics.

Now don’t get me wrong: Ken is a flawed human being like the rest of us. It just so happens that, unlike the other men Maddy dates, beneath the flaws remains a deep, consistent, abiding love for her. Therefore, everything he does — including the hurtful, stupid things — are a result of pure, genuine emotion. Readers may scratch their heads over some of his actions, but they will most likely never doubt his love for the story’s heroine.

Pertaining to the theme of traditional values versus modern-day society, Ken is also very much an all-American kind of guy: a patriot and US Navy veteran with a relentless work ethic, love of freedom and fervent desire to settle down with the right woman. Yes, he’s a young gun with all of the usual raging hormones and normal manly desires; however, he’s quickly tiring of the dating game, even as he optimistically searches for his perfect woman. Marriage is foremost in his mind — not meaningless hook-ups that regrettably characterize our current culture. And when he meets Madeline — a traditional woman in every way, he knows his search is over.

Blown away by the facts that 1.) she refuses to go back to his place for “coffee” after the club closes at 2 a.m. 2.) she’s not been with anyone in the Biblical sense, something he’d long given up on finding and 3.) she’s planning on attending Mass the next day, he realizes she’s a cut above the typical dating scene, and the women he’s previously encountered.

Of course, these qualities also become a source of conflict, particularly because Madeline lags behind a bit in terms of her own emotional maturity. While she’s adamant about upholding the values with which she’s been raised, the thought of marriage — and everything it entails with respect to physical intimacy — is incredibly frightening. She’s still struggling with body image and a fear of the unknown, a reality she has tremendous difficulty verbalizing to the man who stares at her adoringly and thinks everything she does is wonderful.

Ok, back to some specifics in fashioning Ken after his real-life inspiration.

As I mentioned, I remained true to his physical characteristics and personality traits. As much as I could recall through my journals and my memory, I recreated the townhouse he’d lived in in Somers Point, NJ. I literally retraced some of the steps we’d taken on the Atlantic City boardwalk, and toward Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, on our way to watch a live Eagles game.

Thus Ken and Maddy’s first date at Frisanco’s (a restaurant no longer in business), subsequent stroll on the A.C. boardwalk and eventual first kiss high atop the Trump Taj Mahal are all straight from real life. Other things are not, but were created with the book’s themes in mind. In keeping with the title, I endeavored to place my characters by water as often as possible. Therefore, in one of my early chapters, Ken surprises Madeline with a private beach picnic in Ventnor City. Did this really happen? No, but it certainly is something that could have happened, and it provided me a wonderful opportunity as an author to delve further into my characters’ feelings, motivations and outlook.

Other examples of things I did not alter: Ken’s birthplace, zodiac sign (the real guy and me are both Pisces), high school, family (both the real guy and me are the youngest in our respective families), faith (both the real guy and me were raised Catholic), marriage to another woman, and ultimate success in the corporate world. The reasons for this are varied — the shared Pisces sign, for example, ties in with water, which symbolizes renewal and emotions, the foundation of the story.

Examples of things altered:

  • Unlike the real guy and me, Ken and Madeline share the exact same birthday of March 7, 1967. This supports the “soul mate”, spirituality and metaphysical aspects of the book. In real life, we’re about two weeks apart, although both born in March. March 7 was chosen to honor my real grandmother’s birth, since she plays an integral part in the plot, albeit from the other side of life.
  • As I’ve previously stated, the name “Kenneth Lockheart” is completely made up. I needed a first name that would lend itself easily and obviously to shortened versions, thus Kenneth becomes Ken, becomes Kenny. As a side note, I wrote half of the book using the guy’s real first name as it took me that long to settle on a fictional one!
  • Ken and Maddy’s date at The Ship Inn in Exton, where he gives her a Pisces pendant is also a purely fictional scene. However, I’ve shared some enjoyable meals at The Ship Inn with family and friends, so incorporating it into Water Signs was easy to do. It is also relevant by virtue of Ken being a US Navy vet, and the use of water and the Pisces zodiac sign as symbolism in the novel.
  • Ken’s physical fight with his co-worker that ultimately results in his dismissal from the electric company is another made-up element that helps to advance the story and underscore certain themes. In this particular case, it is the tension between “working class” and “middle class”, fomented by jealousy on the co-worker’s part. It also feeds into Ken’s insecurity of not being good enough for Madeline, having not yet completed his education.

In my next installment, I will expand upon the points I’ve made here. I will also place particular focus on the American Dream theme, with a comparison and contrast between the two most important men in Madeline’s life: Ken and her father.

As always, I hope this information has been helpful, and I look forward to sharing more in the near future! 🙂

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The Positives and Pitfalls of Basing a Fictional Novel on Real Life Events and People

As I’ve noted in countless interviews, my book Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal, is based on real people and events in my life. In my last post, I discussed the amazing evolution of the book, following an unexpected memory recall of significant personal events I’d previously blocked from my consciousness.  And while I believe these were all the products of divine timing and inspiration, and have no regrets for writing the book, I am also guided by integrity and a strong sense of right and wrong.

Therefore, I will never divulge the real identities of my characters, particularly Ken and Erin. True, there are some folks who, by virtue of actually being part of the real events (i.e. my family members), know who most of the real-life players are. That’s just the way it is, although none of them would ever go public with the information.

Someone whom I previously considered a friend recently put tremendous pressure on me via a series of emails to share the real identities behind the characters. Although I don’t recall, she claims I once trusted her with this information, and she’s simply asking now because she (thankfully) cannot remember. If I did break my own rule of conduct, I regret doing so in a moment of emotional weakness. I’ve done countless interviews with local reporters and on internet and a.m. radio, and have never once divulged the information. Actually, if memory serves correctly, not one of them even posed the question in the first place, as it is neither relevant, nor crucial to the enjoyment and significance of the story.

Thus, it clearly suffices to let readers know that yes — these personal experiences that highlight the tragedies and difficulties of the modern dating world, are indeed, rooted in reality. So yes, they are authentic, and yes, they help me make an important statement about our contemporary culture.

But it is enough to know that the men Madeline encounters in Water Signs are inspired by men I’ve met and dated in my own life. Period. Beyond that, their identities are no one else’s business. Ditto for other characters like Ken’s wife, Erin.  I live in a town where there are “six-degrees of separation” within a very tight business community, and it serves no good purpose for me to start naming names.

Further, there is the not-so-insignificant matter of my legal protection under copyright law. Why would I do anything to jeopardize that, when it was put into place specifically for that very reason — to protect me? I am truly stumped that a so-called friend would be incapable of understanding at least this last point, which I very carefully spelled out for her. Instead, she took my refusal to disclose the information as a personal insult, angry that I don’t “trust” her.

Information is a funny thing; it has a way of getting out in spite of the best intentions of the secret-keeper. And as I painstakingly explained, the more people who know the real names, the greater the chances of it leaking out in a town where everybody is ultimately connected to everybody else. And that has the potential to hurt some innocent people who aren’t even old enough to deal with the consequences.

If friends cannot understand or respect that, so be it.

Coming soon: Guidelines for fictionalizing real people.

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The Evolution of Water Signs

One of the questions I am asked most frequently by readers is “How long did it take you to write Water Signs?” In truth, there are two paradoxically correct answers:

1. Just under four months; and

2. Fourteen years.

I originally conceived the title in 1994, as a reaction to some very traumatic, real-life events involving a handsome guy and a relocation to a state about 1,200 miles away from home. To put it in a nutshell, I’d moved under false pretenses, believing the guy (whom I’d met and dated two years prior), was still a.) single and b.) avidly desirous of having me move to The Sunshine State, although I’d initially balked at the idea. By the time I’d found the courage to make such a bold choice, he’d moved on with a “platonic roommate” who turned out to be his betrothed.

Indescribably humiliated, angry, hurt and demoralized, I nevertheless found the strength to view his purpose in my life as a catalyst for positive change — one of forcing me to make some painful, yet necessary decisions which I now realize were vital to my personal and spiritual growth. However, back in the excruciatingly painful reality of late-1994/early 1995, such magnanimous, mature thoughts had yet to take root in my mind (although they soon formed the foundation for my emotional survival).

When he surprised me with an in-person visit to break the “happy” news, every fiber of my being wanted to scream, cry, berate and interrogate to get the answers I knew I deserved. Instead, I just sat there, unable to articulate a coherent sentence. That is, until he asked me point-blank how I felt about all of this. And in a performance worthy of an Oscar, I smiled sweetly, expressed my congratulations and assured him that — since my arrival in South Florida — my social life had been moving along swimmingly (which was actually true, thanks to some family friends with offspring in my age group, and a determination to create my own social circle). Thus with all the sincerity I could muster, I congratulated him and his bride-to-be, a woman whose acquaintance I was yet to make, but for whom I’d nevertheless felt an obligation.

In my mind, an engagement was a commitment that precluded any interference from past girlfriends. Should he arrive on his own at the conclusion that he and his fiancee were all wrong for each other, and therefore cancel the wedding, that would be one thing. As for me, I was not willing to hurt a woman I’d never even met, simply because he and I couldn’t get our timing straight.  Stepping aside then, was the only moral thing to do.

Somewhere in the middle of all the trauma, an image of my future book, along with its title, Water Signs, popped into my head. While I am not necessarily adept (yet) at the practice of holding an image firmly in mind, I clearly saw a book with the head-to-tail, in-a-circle, Pisces fish immersed in rippling water — hardly surprising since the gentleman and I are both March babies, born about two weeks apart under the last sign of the zodiac. I jotted down some notes in a journal. And soon after, I banished the book, the title and the guy in the deepest recesses of my mind, never to be seen or heard from again. At least that was the plan. I continued to journal, as I’d done for most of my life, but for all intents and purposes, the man for whom I’d uprooted my entire life had never even existed.

Fast forward to February, 2008 — and an odd, amorphous “full-circle” kind of feeling that led me to visit with a local intuitive named Ann, a woman I’d seen about once a year for nearly a decade. During the span of our fifteen-minute conversation, Ann ushered in a flood of unparalleled emotion by uttering one word — the proper name of the man who’d broken my heart so many years prior. It didn’t sink in at first, because I’d always called him by a nickname that’s a natural offshoot of his baptismal name, as had everyone else; additionally, this proper name is also shared by my brother-in-law. Coupled with the fact that I was still suffering from selective amnesia where this person was concerned, it took a bit of clarification before I realized that the man Ann declared was “cycling back in” was the same one I’d deliberately and forcefully sealed off in my mind’s vault, forever. Or so I thought.

And once the floodgates surrendered to the onslaught, a relentless rush of memories overwhelmed me to the point where  the only logical course of action was to prove the age-old axiom, “writing is therapy.” Thus, the “fictional” novel Water Signs began to take form in my mind. And once I sat down at the computer, the words sprung from my keyboard and onto my computer screen without much assistance from me, other than as a diligent typist, dutifully keeping pace with their frenzied demand.

Though I had a full-time job and a 40-minute, round-trip commute at the time, I’d rush home and spend a minimum of four hours every weeknight, and pretty much every waking hour of every weekend creating the story of Ken and Madeline. It was as if an angel was sitting on my shoulder, whispering the words into my ear. At no point did I have to consciously think about where to use descriptive narration versus character dialogue; where to end one chapter and begin another; or even how many pages to comprise each chapter. Although I did refer to my journals to fill in details and retrace my heart-wrenching journey through panic and anxiety disorder (a topic for another post), and even pulled out a manuscript I’d written ten years prior to formulate Chapters 21, 22 and 23, the bulk of the novel originated from a mind and a heart that had finally found the courage to tell a story whose time had finally arrived.

I sat down in March of 2008 with the intention to complete the novel by July 4 of 2008. On June 29, 2008 — my parents’ 51st anniversary, Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal, had completed its 14-year trajectory from obscure idea with an intriguing title, to a compelling, romantic novel comprised of 435 pages and 35 chapters.

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