Book blurb: Time has done nothing to heal childhood wounds inflicted more than a dozen years ago, nor fade the memories. Now as an adult, Jo has given up on the human race, men in particular, investing her energies in tattoo artistry and animal rescue. Francis meets Jo during an altercation between Jo and another passenger on the Boston subway. Francis, the brains and speech writer for Charles Davis a Boston philanthropist and billionaire, is painfully lonely as his job requires that he maintain anonymity plus have constant exposure to the shallowness, corruption, and cruelty of humankind. From the moment he lays eyes on Jo, Francis sees beyond her rough exterior to the genuine, passionate, fearless, and beautiful person Jo is and pursues her with unwavering passion.
In a compelling story on living as an incest survivor and the how-to's of love, faith, and healing, Jo discovers she is not alone in her fight to leave her past behind and move beyond sorrow into joy.
We welcome Donna Anastasi. Below is her Guest Post.
“The” Writing Process
Though I know that the writing process for a novel is as unique as the author or the work itself, the term “writer” still conjures up in my mind a very specific and stereotypical image. When I think of a writer, I envision her alone in a booth inside a quaint café penning longhand in a notepad. Or see him seated in a writer’s den behind a large mahogany desk with bookshelves filled with books in the background, pounding on a laptop computer for hours on end of uninterrupted novel creation.
Well, I don’t have a writer’s cove or the luxury to spend any more time in quaint cafes than it takes to wrap up a cranberry muffin and hot coffee to go. All the same, in September of 2008 a story hit me and insisted upon being written. It happened one morning as I was driving my daily 65 mile commute across the width of southern New Hampshire. Then, in the coming days, it played over and over in my head like I was remembering a great film I’d just seen. Once I arrived in the office the morning that it first struck, the story and main characters continued to wash over me like crashing waves with me frantically scribbling the words onto yellow sticky notes while trying to get my office work done. That night and for the next several, I spent my evenings scotch taping the days sticky notes into the right sections within one of my kid’s unused lavender spiral notebooks, retyping, and revising. The initial short story form of the novel was written in this way in about two weeks. (It is offered for free under the title “Spin the Plate Short Story” from Amazon, iTunes, Smashwords, etc.) It took almost two years to extend the initial story into a 200 page novel.
My day job is as a user experience/web designer - currently I work for Fidelity Investments in Boston. Writing proposals, technical reports, and user guides for my job has helped me not only to author non-fiction hobby how-to books, but also with fiction writing. Design is a highly collaborative process requiring the combined expertise of many different skill sets. I bring the same type of team approach to my writing, providing ideas and drafts to a wide and diversified audience, gathering feedback, and improving the content and presentation through many iterations. One of my goals was for the book to be vetted sufficiently pre-publication, so that once released there would be no major surprise problematic reader-reactions.
An important aspect of the writing process is the task of discernment to decide what suggestions to integrate and where to leave the writing as-is (the art of this task would make for an interesting blog topic in and of itself). One of the tough decisions for this novel was regarding whether to include or omit profanity. I was warned that this would be a show-stopper for the conservative Christian readership, but decided crude language was essential for character integrity. And besides, I consider this an inspired work, and that is how I “heard” it. Still, I was caught off-guard at the depth of negative reaction that some conservative Christians have voiced, considering, swearing aside, that the novel has such a powerful redemptive message. On the other hand, there’s been total acceptance of the novel, swears and all, from other conservative Christians. The reaction seems to correlate with where one lives and works, e.g., conservative Christians residing in an urban environment and/or involved in the counseling profession seem not too fazed by the profanity.
By far my biggest asset in writing the novel was my husband Tom Anastasi, a professor and playwright. Words flow out of Tom like water from a bubbling brook (for me writing fiction feels more like coaxing well-water from an ancient hand pump). Tom is a master of conversational dialog. The most enjoyable part of writing the novel happened on those rare weekends away from the children. Just the two of us would drive north to Vermont and have a book date on the hotel porch overlooking the mountains. I’d write the initial scene with dialog concepts. Tom would come back with pages and pages of conversation, often quite playful, funny, even ridiculous. I’d pull out the essence, introducing an edginess while infusing some of the fun, augment the dialog here and there, and give it a final polish.
To help keep the story real, without having to spend months of research or years of becoming an expert on very specific topics, I used what I termed a “mosaic” approach. Mosaic writing brings realism to a scene by tapping into first-hand experiences of another and then writing the characters into their stories. For example, I don’t have any tattoos myself, but my sister Ellen Bellini does, so I asked her to explain exactly what the experience was like.
This is the email she sent me:
Then comes the next big step - the design. We went to a tattoo parlor in Jamaica Plain to talk to them about getting the rings and to look at some designs. While talking to the artist we found out that tattoo rings are not done all the way around the finger, just on the back. Apparently palms are not tattooed because you lose the most skin on your hand and it would fade fast. Fine by us, less tattoo, less pain. We looked at a number of designs and didn't really like any, I was partial to a wave design, but it had to be something we agreed on. Jon ended up designing the pattern for them. We drew hand outlines on paper and messed around until one of the designs appealed to us. We used the same design for both (basically two lines with dots above them), but made mine more feminine by making the lines thinner and the dots smaller.
Then it was time for the actual appointment. I knew it would hurt, but figured this was a lifelong commitment, right? It actually feels like someone is burning you while a bee stings you over and over again. But you know that if you move and the design gets messed up you will have that mess up on you for the rest of your life, so trust me, you stay still. And the pain is bearable, it sucks, but is bearable.
Fresh tattoos look awesome, they are so crisp and sharp. Then the scab falls off and it looks a little dull, but by then you love it so much you don't care.
Here’s how it happened to the characters in the book.
First though was the design. They talked to “Spike” about getting the rings, and he showed them some options. Francis was relieved to hear that tattoo rings are not done all the way around the finger, just on the back. The skin on the inside of the finger sheds constantly, so any tattoo there would fade fast. That was fine by him: less tattoo, less pain.So that in a nutshell was how this novel was written. I don’t know whether the next will be written any differently. Perhaps it will now that life is slowing down with one of my girls in high school and the other starting college. Hmmm… now that I think about it that empty bedroom would make an awfully nice writer’s den.
Jo and Francis looked at a number of designs and didn’t like any of them enough. Francis was partial to a wave design, but it was something they wanted to agree on. So, Jo ended up designing the pattern for them. She traced her and Francis’ hand on a piece of paper so that he too could visualize what was in her head. She relayed to him her image of two hands reaching and fingertips touching, merging under a mighty protection as she sketched two black lines with three dots above them. Using a black felt tip pen, she drew the same design for both, making hers more feminine with thinner lines and the dots smaller; on her ring there were tinier dots on each side. The result was simple, but somehow profound.
Francis knew it would hurt, but figured that this was as good a way as any to embark upon on a lifelong commitment. Jo went first and showed no reaction, nor emotion. Then, it was Francis’ turn.
Jo’s description of the experience was spot on, “It feels like being burned while a bee stings you over and over again.”
Francis knew if he moved and the design got messed up, he’d have that mess for the rest of his life. So, he stayed still fighting the pain.
Don’t be a wus, he told himself, holding back tears that he could feel at the back of his eyeballs.
When it was done, the fresh tattoo looked crisp and sharp. Jo told him that it wouldn’t always look that way.
“When the scab falls off,” Jo said, “it will look a little dull, but by then,” she assured him, “you’ll love it so much you won’t care.”
Francis hoped Jo would always feel the same way about him.
About the author: Donna Anastasi is the author of two non-fiction small animal books both published by Bowtie press: a popular how to care for gerbils book and a chinchilla handbook promoting these exotic and intelligent creatures as companions, not coats. Spin the Plateis Anastasi's debut novel, written in the 18 months after the initial story was penned.
Spin the Plate holds several recognitions including Readers Favorite book awards (Chick Lit and Contemporary Romance), Gold Medal Winner Living Now Book Awards for Women’s Fiction, and International Book Award Finalist (Romance and Women’s Literature).
Donna Anastasi lives North of Boston in Hollis New Hampshire with her husband, two teen-aged daughters, and an ever changing menagerie.
Reader Girls thanks Donna Anastasia and Jennifer Walker. Our review will be posted this weekend.