This blog was featured on 07/28/2017
[SWP: Behind the Book] Breaking the Surface

I’m fascinated by how people become who they are. Like the time I had the pleasure of being in the same Target checkout line as the disgruntled lady who was oozing of anger for everyone around her to see, feel, and hear. I immediately began to wonder what fueled this woman and how did she get so pissed off at everyone and everything? You’re at one of the happiest places to shop, lady. What in your world brought you to this point?

Then there’s the brave teen behind the register in a hijab and jeans managing this same woman’s unbecoming behavior. The young woman continues to exude a poised, professional confidence—even after the disgruntled lady suggests under her breath that the kind of service she was receiving directly correlated to the “type of people this store was hiring.”

I certainly never possessed that kind of steel bravery at that girl’s age. After an interaction like that, I would have been the one crumbling in the corner of the employee break room. It was only moments later that I wished I had said something to the disgruntled lady. Still, the stories of both women lingered in me.

When a story tugs at you

It happened after reflecting on a writing assignment I submitted in the Summer of 2014 with Gotham Writers in New York City. Our teacher, the author Julie Chibbaro, assigned the writing prompt: I began to question the wisdom of this trip.

Of course she meant a drug trip, right? I didn’t know anything about taking LSD or know anyone who had. So I researched it and wrote a short piece about a girl who takes LSD by herself in her family’s basement and experiences horrors upon horrors. I know, it’s sort of twisted and weird, but I’m drawn to that.

Months later the story of the LSD-taking teen pulled at me. So my questions expanded. Why is this girl alone in her basement taking LSD for the first time? Where are her friends, her parents? What led her to do such a thing? What happened to her? What’s her family life like? Slowly these threads began the novel I Like You Like This.

Dive deep and take a good look around

When I write, I like to explore "the underneath.” Imagine a scene taking place under water. Stand on the edge of the pool with your toes curled over the edge. Quick. Take a gulp of air as you tuck your head and slice the surface with your fingertips. While suspended under the water, survey everyone and everything around you. What do you see? What are the people doing? What are they saying, what are they not saying? Observe the colors, smells, and sounds.

I like to dive deep into the characters’ back stories to uncover their motivation, what makes them tick, and most of all . . . what made them who they are in that moment.

In the words of Mr. Rogers, "Frankly, there isn't anyone you couldn't learn to love once you've heard their story.” Even the disgruntled woman at Target.

Bring it, Fred. Dive deep.


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