Monday, June 16, 2014

Let's Discuss Life and Writing By C.P. Stringham

I had planned on visiting Cornell Plantation, located on the Cornell University campus, this past weekend and using the experience and pictures captured for this week’s blog. The trip had to be postponed. My friend, Debbie, an avid bird watcher and nature lover, was going to join me for the trip, but she had a family emergency come up last week. Her sister-in-law, Sherry, has been fighting for her life inside the ICU of our local hospital. Family comes first. As a community, we’re all pulling for Sherry to overcome her illness. She’s proved to be one tough cookie, surviving a surgery only one in two-hundred could do. Due to her extremely low blood pressure, they can’t administer pain medication and she’s conscious—that’s right, she is aware and feeling everything. If you get a moment today, send out positive energy, healing prayers, or even good juju (if that’s what you’re into) in Sherry’s direction to help fortify her strength. The ladies of Broads of a Feather offer their thoughts and prayers to the entire Yale/Learn family during this time and hope Sherry gets stronger with each passing day.
The cover came together quickly. The butterfly represents
life changing from one phase to another; a sign of hope.

So… What should I blog about today? My latest work-in-progress? I guess I could. My partner, Robin Janney, blogs about writing and, since it’s a blog about writers, I may as well give it a shot. With Rest In Peace being released a full six weeks past my original date, it has put Overcoming Sarah behind. It was my hope to have the novella available at the end of June, but even with hitting a word count of 2,000 words a day, I’d still be cutting it too closely for my taste. I find that when I force the words, the story, my voice, falls flat. It’s too hollow sounding. Due to the subject matter, the suicide of a college youth, I really want to explore the characters’ emotions and methods of coping while bringing light to the sensitive subject of depression and suicide.  As you can imagine, it has been an emotional story to write. While I don’t want to bog it down in the depths of human despair, it is important to accurately portray what life is like for those left behind. The story is told from the mother’s perspective, a role I understand all too well. My oldest graduates next year. Any good psychiatrist will be able to read Overcoming Sarah and say, “This author is working through her own separation anxiety regarding her daughter leaving for college.” Yep. It’s pretty transparent. My friend, Tina, is one of my test readers. Like me, she has a teen daughter. Courtney just finished her first year of college. I have been killing Tina’s emotional resolve with each new chapter I send her. The “what ifs” can shake a mother to her foundation. With that said, I’m hoping to draw awareness to teen depression, signs to recognize for those at risk, and also to show the evolution of a family after they experience the unthinkable. Hence the “overcoming” part. Proving that life does, indeed, go on.
While the manuscript of Overcoming Sarah started forming, I found myself seeking council from my friends, Jenn and Lisa, as we did our daily workout on The Matterhorn. Both of them have teen sons the same age as my oldest daughter. The three of us have known each other since our kids started kindergarten together. Lisa and Jenn offered some candid insight while I poured out my literary heart to them. Writing comes from the soul. To be good at it, to move your readers emotionally with your work, you have to walk in your character’s shoes. I immerse myself into each role. While writing, I leave my own reality behind and become an observer inside the world I’ve created. In doing so, it allows me to describe what I see and hear and feel. What better way to peel away my own emotions, like the layers of an onion, to get to the core of the character? Immersion like that takes a toll on me both mentally and physically. It’s another reason why I can’t force myself to write. I may not be feeling it. This side of creativity can’t be turned on or, as I’ve found out during many a sleepless night, can’t be turned off either. Like a surfer, you have to ride the waves when the tide is just right. With that being said, it’s time for me to get back to work. I have one week before the girls are out of school and I need to take advantage of my final week of quiet, undisturbed mornings.

Here’s a little snippet from Overcoming Sarah:

Set in Elmira, New York, I visited Woodlawn
             Cemetery while working on Overcoming Sarah.
I made the short trip, knowing I could have closed my eyes, and arrived at the spot since the smell of freshly turned soil grew stronger with each purposeful step.  And there it was.  Musty dampness permeated the air as the image of my daughter being swallowed up by the silky, black darkness of the dirt made me feel as if I, too, was under its weight and suffocating.  My shoes were perched an inch from the perimeter.  A temporary grave marker was already in place and provided her full name, pertinent years, as well as the name of the funeral home.  They told us that once the ground was through settling, usually within six months, her permanent monument could be installed.  Per our wishes, the only flowers left behind was the casket spray Eileen designed with delicate pink tea roses, rich green ivy, and white snapdragons.  It was easily a five-hundred-dollar arrangement and very time consuming to put together.  Cost and time were an afterthought to my shop employees.  They’d do anything for their Sarah-Bear.  I knelt down and pulled a tea rose from the arrangement.  I’d press it inside my family bible.  A keepsake that would forever represent life turning into something brittle and faded.

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