My mid-grade-reader-in-progress provides me with many challenges. But the most difficult challenge for me is deciding and sticking to the Point of View (POV) that is most appropriate for my book.
“Shelter of Last Resort” is a story about Jermaine, a 13-year-old black boy living in the poverty-stricken Ninth Ward of New Orleans, who endures Hurricane Katrina. And I am writing this manuscript in first person.
Think about that a moment. Here I am, a middle-aged white woman from Northern Indiana. Imagine my pain and anxiety while trying to squeeze thoughts, words and experiences into my main character so that they come out sounding like a black boy living in a gang-infested neighborhood.
You have heard of writer’s block. This is similar. But it’s more like writer’s constipation.
I consider flushing the entire project down the commode.
With the prodding of a few of my writing friends, however, I decide the best option is to chew on the foundational fibers of character development. I discovered there are techniques that actually help move things along. Here are the treatments I use to bring Jermaine to life.
That’s how I know I am finally mastering my character’s voice.
Now, if you will excuse me, I must go plunge into my writing.
"This is a national emergency. This is a national disgrace," Terry Ebbert, the head of homeland security in New Orleans, bitterly complained. "FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control. We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans." (New York Times, 9/2/05)
As writers we weave our lives into our work. Whether it's subtle or blatant, it’s there.
My work-in-progress, Shelter of Last Resort takes place during Hurricane Katrina. I chose this topic because of the devastation I experienced while working missions in New Orleans after the hurricane. Aside from gutting houses, I also spent time in the evenings playing with the kids at one of the parks. They were a rough bunch. They used language I thought shocking for adults, let alone young kids. They threw rocks at each other. Spit at each other. Made crude remarks and threatened one another. A few in our small missions group, sadly, were so turned off by this disrespect and “wildness” that they did not return the rest of the week to spend time or minister to these precious children.
But these kids craved love. I remember two young girls sitting on a bench braiding each other’s hair, smiling and talking. Another young boy clung to me and was very focused on drawing pictures—one of which I was blessed to be gifted with. A couple of little girls shared my lap while big Bobby Morton (former Notre Dame offensive lineman) presented a Bible story, complete with his unique dramatization. Then the kids flocked around the picnic table for face painting and I watched as they took their paint brushes and completely covered even inch of my son’s head and face in bright colors. He sat there patiently with a big grin on his face, enjoying every minute. And I vividly remember never being without a little hand to hold.
This took place three years after the hurricane. These kids were survivors. And though their little minds couldn’t possibly comprehend everything they had endured, they each had their own survival story. I wondered as I sat there with them how many lost someone they loved. How many lost their homes, their possessions and their beloved pet? How many evacuated and how many stayed behind? What horrors had they seen or experienced?
My heart broke just trying to take it all in.
Jermaine and Cornell, the two main characters in my book, are the embodiment of these children. In addition, I’ve taken my own experience with “survival” and applied it to their situation. I want kids to gain strength from reading Jermaine’s story and feel they can overcome whatever pains and obstacles life puts in their path.
I am in the final stages of writing the book, but it will still have to undergo several editing phases and editor evaluations. I am beginning work on the book proposal, which in itself will easily exceed 25 pages.
I draw my inspiration from a lot of venues. I do a lot of research (articles, videos and books) and read stories from Katrina survivors. One song that still remains a strong inspiration for me is Rascal Flatts’ “Stand.” But my most powerful source of inspiration are those rough, but amazingly strong kids that I had the privilege of spending time playing with in the park during those few hot and sticky evenings in New Orleans.
Shelter of Last Resort originally transpired from my Young Adult Novel Class, taught through Bethel College by Professor Kim Peterson. In addition to writing and editing the first 20,000 words or so of the book, I had to create character profiles and get into my character's head by creating a journal. The journal was an account of bits of Jermaine's life that may or may not be used in the book. It just helped me get a better feel for who Jermaine was and what his life was like so I could apply those characteristics and experiences into the book, usually indirectly. Here is an example of some of those entries.
So much death. Jermaine watched the events unfold on the TV. as if they were taking place around him. The continuous popping of the rifles as both sides sought to slaughter each other. He felt as if the bullets were whipping pas this own ears. Men were dying. When a whizzing bullet blew through the brushes and planted itself into real flesh and blood, the noise sickened him
Yet it was just a movie
The courage of the American soldiers seemed foreign to Jermaine.In the heat of battle, where bullets burned and bombs dismembers, soldiers helped their brothers in need. They protected each other. They tended to the wounded. They stayed focused on their mission.
Jermaine wondered if he could ever be that brave.
“Get that dog outta here!” Jermaine’s mama shouted from the kitchen.
“What’s he doin’ now?” Jermaine’s eyes rolled and he made his way across the livingroom. Suddenly a brown and white blur of fur darted past him and up the stairs.
“Finchley!” he shouted after the dog.
“That’s it! One more time he steals food off the table, he’s out on his butt!”
“Mama, he’s just a pup.”
“I don’t care if he’s a pup or a full-blown dog. He needs to learn him some manner.”
The alarm clock set sounded it weak wake-up call reminding Jermaine that the batteries were low. He tapped the back of the clock and sat up. He rubbed his eyes and slipped out from the covers, making his way down the hall. His mama and little brother Kirk still slept.
After reaching the small kitchen, Jermaine poured cereal into two bowls and sat them at the table. He went to Kyle's bedroom.
“Breakfast,” He mumbled as he nudged his brother awake.
Kyle always woke up easily. He popped out of bed and hustled to the kitchen for breakfast with Jermaine following close behind. Jermaine divided what was left of the milk into the two bowls. Kyle grinned a sleepy grin at his brother and grabbed his spoon.
I've been reading Sheila Walsh's God Has a Dream for Your Life. She talks about broken dreams. We've all had them. Dreams that have shattered, not always due to any fault of our own. The shattering can occur when a marriage fails, a job is lost, a death occurs ... there are countless dream-crushing devices the enemy uses to cause us to lose our way. But our God is the giver of dreams. If one dream is destroyed, God has another one in store for you.
This is a something I've struggled with lately. Finding my dream. I think my dream-crushing devices are multiple. First and foremost, I am a newly established empty nester. I love my children, but always thought that once they were grown, I'd have this glorious independent life that was anything but boring. Instead, I experienced sadness, loneliness and felt quite lost.
This transition period has forced me to seek God. So, I've been asking God diligently, "What is my purpose? What is your dream for my life?"
One of the greatest acts of restoration He's performed in the last month is reestablishing my joy in writing. I haven't felt joy in my writing for a long time. It's been more of a chore. I am so thankful to have this back. To have a focus and a purpose. A "Dream."
I admit, I have more dreams. I don't know if they are all from God just yet. The desire to be married again some day. The desire to travel. The desire to continue work on my family's genealogy and to write historical fiction based on my ancestry. The desire to provide and care for my parents, kids and grandkids when and if necessary. Then there's the dream of owning my own business some day.
My prayer has been that God would fill me with his desires that align with his purpose in my life. I pray He takes away desires that aren't from him. I have a wonderful friend who gently reminded me that God might not necessarily take all of the desires away that would cause me to stray from the path He has set before me. After all, sometimes God uses those to teach us things. But I do pray that He at least gives me strength, guidance and wisdom to follow the right desires that best serve him.
My favorite quote in Sheila's book so far is "When all your dreams have been crushed and your heart is broken, you stand in the perfect place for resurrection."
Don't let the death of a dream leave you hopelessly wandering through life. If you are at this point, where a single dream or a multitude of dreams have been shattered, I pray that you seek God and allow him to resurrect new dreams for you.
Never a Duh Moment
Sometimes I feel like I am in God's way. For example, if I forget an appointment or miss a deadline. Or when I place great expectations on myself and fall short. Or when I get lost because my sense of direction falters 98 percent of the time.