Grateful

Published by Wendy
Sunday, January 9th, 2011 at 5:16 am under Uncategorized

This has been a month I will not soon forget.

The details are not important and many are not mine to disclose. I’m tired on every front and not even sure why I’m attempting to write except for the fear that if I don’t write this now, and publish it, I will think better of it tomorrow and slink back into the steady rhythm of life. It would be so much easier to curl up in bed, close my eyes and let sleep wash it all away.

So many things have happened, and they have now come together like a song playing in the distance that grows louder and louder until finally it is recognizable. Driving back from New York tonight, I listened to the song in my head until the lyrics made sense, revealing the common thread of these last few weeks in my life. And I was reminded.

I held my children while they cried with sorrow at losing their beloved dogs. I was held by a friend, full body, arms and legs wrapped around me, while I cried. I laughed with family at inside jokes that only we understand and felt the power of that connection. I was graced with unexpected company at a precious time of year. I was given the profound trust of someone’s darkest secret, someone else’s lifelong assets. I experienced the humbling of writer’s block and time slipping through my fingers without progress or enjoyment or anything worthy of time. I felt love and sorrow wash over me with the same breath. And, tonight, I witnessed suffering that I was powerless to change.

I’m not good at details when it comes to the personal lives of friends, family and even myself. This entire writing, I know, is completely unsatisfying without them. That will have to be. All I really want to say, need to say, is that the lyrics of this song became less important as I drove. I began instead to hear the music, and it moved me. Maybe you’ve had a moment like that, when finally enough has happened that you just stop, shut down, break down and feel it. The weight, and grace, of life. I am grateful tonight. I am grateful for the strength to hold my children, and for friends who place their trust in me, even though I fall apart in their arms. I am grateful for having witnessed unbelievable courage in the face of despair and vulnerability that few ever experience. And I am grateful that I have been reminded of the humanity that so easily disappears in daily life, complicated and dark as it can sometimes be.

In these long weeks, I have not been able to write one sentence, one chapter of my book. It’s so unlike me. I have written everywhere and anywhere and on demand so easily for years now.

But I have this song now playing in my head, and it has muted the static that has distracted me. I have been sinking in the quick sand of self-doubt over plot twists and setting descriptions which I am now reminded are secondary to what all writing must be – a conduit to connect one person, one reader, to the people living the story. It is this bone-deep humanity that we all long to embrace in others, even fictional characters, because we feel it within ourselves, and to live without the reminder that it exists in those around us is a lonely, intolerable state of existence.

Tomorrow I will tend to the beautiful, magnificent people in my life. I will take the lessons I have learned from them and be stronger and wiser and braver in embracing what is right in front of me. I will move forward, onward, without compromise or indecision. And I will write. Grateful.

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Social Lives Paperback Release

Published by Wendy
Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 at 1:55 pm under Uncategorized

The paperback is out today! Honestly, like everyone, my mind is on grocery shopping, cleaning the house for guests, making travel plans and keeping the kids occupied while they’re out of school. Hardly the best time to try to promote a book.

But here goes anyway!

Forget the cover, the title, and jacket description. There are plenty of light, scandalous books out there about privileged housewives. This isn’t one of them.

Set against the backdrop of a wealthy Connecticut suburb, Social Lives takes a serious look at the real issues defining the wives and daughters of Wall Street’s elite.

Jacqueline Halstead. For seventeen years, she has been a dedicated mother, and wife of a successful hedge fund manager. When his crimes threaten to bankrupt them, Jacks has nothing to fall back on to save her family. Her actions become both calculated and desperate, reflecting the powerlessness that her financial dependency has created.

Caitlin Barlow. At fourteen, she is already lost. Daughter of billionaire Ernest Barlow and his wife, social mastermind, Rosalyn, Caitlin’s lack of self-definition has left her vulnerable to a social circle in which “friends with benefits” has replaced dating. When she becomes intimate with an older boy, her emotional world spins dangerously out of control.

Rolsayn Barlow. As she skillfully manipulates her social environment to rescue her daughter’s reputation, Rosalyn is beginning to see the consequences of the life she’s chosen. With her marriage crumbling and five children to raise in a complex and sometimes ruthless place, her emotional state begins to align with that of her troubled daughter, exposing a self-fulfilling prophecy that has existed for generations.

Sara Livingston. New to town and younger than most of the housewives here, Sara is slowly putting the pieces together, and the picture that emerges scares her. Having left a career as a journalist behind for her husband, she now wonders if she can survive in this new world, and if her marriage will survive if she decides to leave.

As the stories of these four women intertwine in a (hopefully) suspenseful and intensely human drama, the questions about the role of women in our most privileged communities take shape, and leave readers with a deeper understanding of the world that is now on everyone’s mind.

This is a world I know very well and I felt passionate about exploring the social dynamics at play. I find them fascinating and thought provoking. I hope my readers do as well!

Happy reading and happy holidays!

Wendy

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Delayed Gratification

Published by Wendy
Friday, August 20th, 2010 at 1:12 pm under Uncategorized

I am now 70 pages into the novel and taking a break to go on vacation with my lovely children. It is a good place to pause because the story has been set up and I now have to prepare the structure for the unfolding of the plot that has been established.

Speaking with other writers, it is clear to me that this is both an art and science. Hopefully, the reader is attached to the characters and wanting to know what’s going on behind all the clues that have been dropped, and follow the characters through their perilous journey. With a book like this one that has multiple plot lines and chapters that are written in the voices of the main players (rather than one linear narrative) it becomes imperative to keep things moving so the reader does not feel frustration.

For example, if the reader has just followed one character to the uncovering of a new clue, she will want to turn the page and find out what that clue is about. But it might be necessary to have that page bring her back to a second plot line which also needs to unfold at the same time. Argh! Just tell me already! We all tend to seek instant gratification – how many of us have skipped ahead to get a peek of what’s going to happen? And yet the joy of a suspense novel (and so many other delicious things in life :) ) is being made to wait.

I think the key here is make the chapters short and action packed so when the reader is required to switch gears she can quickly become engrossed, and after a couple of paragraphs, feel satisfied to be learning more about the parallel plot line. It is also important to return to the first plot line before the reader forgets what was happening in it or loses interest.

So much to consider! For me, it is very helpful to stop writing and plot out the majority of the book chapter by chapter. This can be painstaking because it takes time and effort and offers no relief for the burning desire to fill those blank pages. In some ways then, the reader and the author ultimately share the same experience of delayed gratification! Ah, but isn’t that the best kind?

More soon :)

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Quick Excerpt

Published by Wendy
Monday, August 16th, 2010 at 5:49 pm under Uncategorized

This one is going to be very short because I am in the thick of it right now.

For anyone who has lost a true love, does this do it justice?

I met George  fourteen years ago. I didn’t need to think about it, about how long it had been, because I always know. There are places in the city I don’t walk past. Movies I will never see a second time. Music I can’t stand to hear. George and I shared one year of my life, but it is that one year that defines the others. Of the innumerable things that the old neglect to tell the young, the most unforgivable is that love doesn’t always come again.

Let me know! More later :)

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A Novel Structure

Published by Wendy
Tuesday, August 10th, 2010 at 4:27 pm under Uncategorized

If you’ve read my novels, Four Wives and Social Lives, you know that I like to write within a specific structure. Multiple characters, alternating chapters, different voices. This enables me to keep the plot moving, connect readers with each of the characters, and intertwine several plot lines within one master story. It’s also a lot of fun! For one chapter, I can be scandalous and dramatic. In the next, I can be brainy and complicated. I can be a woman on the brink of an affair, a man lost within his own fabulous life, or a teenager caught in a dangerous cycle of self-destruction.

As I write this new novel, I am keeping much of this structure, but making one significant change. In this novel, I have a dominant character, Melanie Thomas, and I am writing her in first person. 

Writing in first person is actually quite liberating for an author. By providing a direct line of communication between the reader and character, first person narrative can be a powerful tool. Alternating between first and third person is also very useful, because it adds additional avenues for suspense. For example, an action sequence can occur in one chapter with secondary characters. In the next chapter, when the reader returns to the main character, she is desperate for this character to know what just happened because it (a) solves her problem, (b) saves her life, (c) threatens her life, etc. Wanting her to uncover the action that the reader already knows about provides a huge incentive to turn the page! Please, for the love of God, let her find out!

But alternating between first person with the readers’ favorite character and third person with the supporting characters can be tricky. It requires the reader to shift gears, to leave the head of the main character and process the new information that is being delivered through the others. The change in voice can also be tricky because it completely alters the tone of the book.

In this novel, Melanie (Mel) is a little flip at times, sarcastic, sharp-witted and discerning of those around her. Though she is a victims’ rights advocate with a lot of serious issues on her mind, she has a quirky suburban family. Sandwiched between two sisters, young, hip Belle and minivan-driving conservative Claire, she finds humor in the family interactions. Their mother, Judy, is also a colorful character. Having rediscovered feminism later in her life, she is outspoken and determined to influence her daughters’ decisions.

The chapters with Mel’s family are a joy to write because that’s what I’ve done for most of my writing career – pulled apart the relationships between women. The challenge for me is to not go so far into what could be considered traditional women’s fiction that I derail the reader from the main plot, which is the drama of Mel’s newest case involving the assault of a teenage girl.

I am 50 pages in now, and at a crucial juncture. Mel and George, who have been working the same story from two different angles (George is a reporter), finally cross paths. Here is my dilemma as I sit down (hopefully today if my kids stay put at their camps) to write the next chapter. Is Mel’s first encounter with her true love after 13 years written in first person, or third? Is it more effective to focus on Mel’s point of view, or is it better to have both of their reactions conveyed equally? If I write in Mel’s voice, George’s feelings will have to be disclosed through his actions and then in a subsequent chapter when we can get into his head through third person narrative. If I don’t write in Mel’s voice, or first person, then we will see Mel in a different light – through the eyes of the narrator (me).

I am going to face this same dilemma in every chapter where Mel meets new characters who have been in third person chapters. I’m not sure what I’ll end up doing, but I will keep you posted!

More later…

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My New Love

Published by Wendy
Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010 at 3:57 pm under Uncategorized

Every time I write a new novel, there is a new love. And shaping that love in a way that will be both provocative and familiar is the real challenge. Much of the love that surrounds us is like a favorite pair of jeans. Sometimes they feel amazing. Sometimes they make us feel sexy. Sometimes they feel too tight, or rough, or we’re just not in the mood for them. But we always know, if we take good care of them, that they will feel good again, maybe even tomorrow, and that there will be days when we pull them on and they feel brand new. And utterly amazing.

My characters are always wanting that kind of love, and my readers (hopefully) able to see that there is hope for this. No one wants to invest the heart in a love story that is doomed to crash and burn.

Still, when I begin to structure the love story in a novel, I think about the great ones. First and foremost – Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Proud, independent Lizzy finally meets her match in Mr. Darcy. But Darcy is a love cynic, and deeply afraid to give his heart. Whether they like it or not, it is love at first conversation. But they spend an entire novel mucking things up until, finally, neither one can stand being apart for one more second. Nothing is more gratifying than watching these two overcome the obstacles they place in their own path and find bliss.

One of my favorite modern love stories is Carrie and Big from Sex and the City. Year after year, we watched the chemistry between them, the bad timing, the posturing and miscommunication. Again, two strong, independent people who have met their match and it scares them so much they engage in horrific behavior to sabotage their chances at happiness. Of course, it all ends well.

Finally, I’ve been thinking about the love story between Liz and David in Eat Pray Love. For those of you who haven’t read the novel but plan to see the film, STOP READING now because I’m about to spoil it for you. Liz goes on her journey to find herself after she falls into a love inspired depression. Her soul mate, David, can’t meet her needs, which are substantial when it comes to David. He doles out affection sparingly, leaving Liz aching for more and empty inside. When she is in the “pray” stage of her journey, a wise Texan at the ashram tells her something very poignant – that while David may be her soul mate, they may not be able to live life together. I thought this was one of the best revelations in the book. And one of the most disheartening. Soul mates who can’t be together for no tangible reason? Ugh.

This is a suspense novel, so the love story is not the main course, but perhaps the table upon which everything will be served. The connection between Melanie (Mel) and George (can’t stop naming characters George – yes, many of you know why) has to be believable and engaging as they face my perilous plot. Mel is strong and courageous. She’s jaded but hopeful. Plagued by her dark past, but always peeking above into the light. She and George met years ago. George is brilliant and sensitive. Loyal and strong. He has no issues with his past but is drawn to Mel for the depth he sees in her eyes and the connection that exists between them from the first moment.

Of course, Mel is young then and when his love comes so fast and feels so real, she can’t do what she usually does with men – hide. Whatever walls she puts up between them, George just pulls them down. He understands her past and what it’s done to her. Not only is he willing to help her through it all, he refuses to let her ruin what’s between them. But in the end, Mel isn’t ready and she disappears to a place where he can’t follow.

It is years later and Mel and George are thrown together when a teenage girl is assaulted in a small Connecticut suburb. George is not as open anymore. He’s still angry and hurt and seeing Mel again is not easy. For Mel, George is kryptonite – the one person who sees through her, knows about her past, and could make her feel love again.

That’s the plan. Send me your favorite love stories and let me know what you think about Mel and George. This is a work in progress so join in!

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Conversations with Christopher

Published by Wendy
Sunday, August 1st, 2010 at 12:21 am under Uncategorized

So my plan to get going on the new novel failed. It all started out fine. I packed the canvas bags, drove the kids to camp, went to yoga and headed home to start work. Then the phone rang. 

It was my oldest son calling from camp. He was sick. Coughing, sore throat. I passed the exit for my house and stayed on the highway. I called the doctor and made an appointment. Home at noon. Doctor at 1pm. Home by 2pm. He’s not that sick, it turns out, just very good at being twelve. Then it was time to pick up the other kids. Mom beats writer every time. The day was gone.

Fast forward and it’s Saturday afternoon. Kids home all day. Nothing to do. Granted we have a pool and they have each other. Still, there’s nothing to do. Except watch TV. So I pile them in the car and drive to Chinatown for soup dumplings at Joe’s, some plastic Naruto figurines and a gigantic folding fan thing. Home again.

I give in to the pleas for Han (computer game) and go to my hammock with the paper. Soon after, my youngest, Christopher joins me.

Christopher is 7 and he can draw cartoons like a professional. His passion is relentless. He sketches day and night and studies with a professional artist who teaches him how to make a character look “accessible,” or reflective, or mischievous. Not unlike life, one stroke can change the mood entirely.

Christopher and I often talk about writing books together. He will do the illustrations and I will write the words. The content of the story is always collaborative. We decide today that we will work on our story about the devil. We like the devil because he can have complex expressions and moods and because our devil walks the earth and must interact with humans. And our devil will ultimately have a conflict that pits good against evil and makes the reader think about humanity. What could be better?

The hammock is swinging back and forth, the night air so perfect we can’t feel it one way or another against our skin. Christopher shows me the book cover for our book, The Devil Man – a green devil with white horns and black pants. He is the most clever creature with intelligent eyes and a knowing smile. His stance is playful. 

“What’s next?” I ask him. “Should it be the part when he takes human form?”

“No, no, no!” my son says. “You see, in books, you can’t just give away the whole story. People need to find out the devil takes human form but first we have to take them to the graveyard where he picks out the body. Everything has to be in order and we have to make them have that thing … what’s that thing?”

I am speechless but I find the word he’s looking for. “Suspense?”

“Yeah! Suspense. So I’ll go draw the graveyard scene.”

He runs back inside and I suddenly feel better about the days when mom beats writer in the war over time.

Monday will be here shortly.

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Back to the Grind!

Published by Wendy
Tuesday, July 27th, 2010 at 2:30 am under Uncategorized

My second novel, Social Lives, was released almost a year ago and I am horrified that I am just now starting the third! In my own defense, I edited two more Chicken Soup for the Soul collections and wrote a screenplay. But still. I’ve been doing something I never used to do – procrastinate. There is something about the summer that just slows me down. Moms out there, you know what I’m talking about. No matter how many camps get lined up, the days just seem to float by, taken over by packing and unpacking of canvas bags, spontaneous trips to the homes of friends with beach houses. Oh, and family reunions like the one I hosted this year for around 30 people (it got very hard to keep track thanks to my fabulously popular sister, Jennifer). Ok, yes, I did take a four day trip to Belize without the kids where I swam with sharks and downed Jagermeister like I was as young as my sister, which resulted in some very humiliating air guitar to Guns n’ Roses … the point is, the summer is a hard time to start anything when you’re a writer and a mom.

So – I am reaching out to the many writers out there who struggle to find time to work, or just to fill one blank screen with words, to keep me motivated. I am starting my novel tomorrow and I will be posting regular updates on my progress. My goal is to have 100 pages completed by the end of August. I welcome suggestions along the way. Feel free to bitch, gripe, or commiserate as well.

Here is the plan for tomorrow: Up at 7. Pack canvas bags for kids’ camp. Make breakfast. Drive to camp. Go to yoga (yes – this IS necessary). Grab coffee. Drive home. Work for 4 hours before camp is over.

Here is the goal for tomorrow: The new novel combines the suburban world that I love to write about with a brutal crime, a pharmaceutical company, a victim’s rights attorney and a political scandal. I started writing it in present tense, first person and I am now switching to past tense and alternating between first person for my main character and third for the others. I have 40 pages to convert and rearrange – writers out there I know you’ve been there. Changing every “is” to “was” and the like is beyond tedious (anyone have software for that?). I also need to restructure to accommodate some new plot angles.

Twitter fans, find me at  wendy_walker.

And now I have three sugared-up children to put to bed :)

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More Chicken Soup!

Published by Wendy
Monday, April 5th, 2010 at 2:33 pm under Uncategorized

 

Happy Spring!

I haven’t written for a while. I’ve been hunkered down writing a screenplay and starting a new novel, editing Chicken Soup books and doing yoga. For those of you who read my post last year when I bailed on yoga and anything remotely zen to accommodate my crazy busy life, I apologize for the about face! I had been putting off the things I wanted to do for myself, other than work, for far too long. Of course, my visions of becoming thin and sinewy haven’t exactly paid off since I’ve gained 5 pounds (had to give up some of the running – there’s only so much time in the day). Still, I love that there is something in my life that yields immediate results from hard work. That doesn’t sound very zen, but that’s why I keep going back. Some pain and sweat and suddenly I can do that pose that seemed impossible. Ahhh. If only motherhood and writing could be that reliable :)

So happy spring. And with spring seems to come more Chicken Soup for the Soul books. This year I present to you Thanks Mom and Thanks Dad. There is simply no better way to say thanks to a parent, or a spouse, than to share with them the most heartfelt stories from real people about that special relationship. I selected and edited every story in both of these books – they made me laugh and cry and nod with profound understanding about the complexities that exists between parent and child. They made me think about my parents, my childhood, my children and how my children will think about me when they’re grown. They touch the very essence of our humanity.

Please let me know what you think of these books. I love feedback!

Wendy

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Social Lives a Last Minute Gift

Published by Wendy
Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009 at 3:53 pm under Uncategorized

Yeah. Social Lives was just listed as a last minute gift on the Recessionista!

Hope everyone has a great holiday.

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