The Dragon Welcomes Ellen Weisberg
Or...meet an inspiring author at The Dragon today
Ellen Weisberg's career revolved involved around radio broadcasting until she developed oromandibular dystonia, a Parkinson’s-like disorder. She suddenly had to face not just the pain and difficulty of losing her conversational speech for an indeterminate length of time, She suddenly was faced with loss of her one creative outlet. After trying a series of Western medicine treatments, including anticholinergic drugs, she eventually found great relief for her dystonia in an acupuncture protocol used to treat Parkinson's disease.
To try to keep her mind off of the physical discomfort of the condition, its social impact, and the uncertainty of not knowing if and when the affliction would eventually lift, she began channeling her energies into two old passions: writing and illustrating. The outcomes were her multiple publications, including her newest release, Gathering Roses, which she's joined us to discuss today.
The Dragon: The novel Gathering Roses features a leading lady who is described as "a little bit of every woman who has ever lived." Now that's a good marketing statement for capturing audience, but could you describe Lori Solomon in your words? As her author, could you tell us what you think of Lori and what she means to you?
Ellen Weisberg: The main character, Lori Solomon, generally suffers from low self-esteem that she traces back to interactions she had with peers early on. She finds herself drawn to those who remind her of those who had rejected her. She is also drawn to those with more or less of a free-spirited side to them; those who are very different from the shy and inhibited person Lori believes she has always been and still is. Her pursuit of love seems to be more than not a subconscious attempt to seek a kind of acceptance that will translate into the positive validation she obviously is still missing. To me, Lori’s the quintessential underdog, and someone that even the most confident and successful among us could likely relate to on some level. I think it’s hard--if not impossible--to go through life without some kind of bout of self-doubt, struggle for self-renewal or brush with self-destruction at one point or another. This passage might help illustrate who Lori Solomon is in Gathering Roses:
It was hard for Lori to envision herself as anything other than the fish-skinned, algae-infested, bog spawn creature from Hell her peers had convinced her she was and always would be. And not being able to see herself differently from how others had once seen her, she was left to wonder who in his right mind would want her? And how could she realistically be expected to want anyone in return who obviously wasn’t in his right mind? She chose to believe what they led her to believe about herself, and she allowed their unmitigated attacks on the already deformed spine of her soul to contribute to her eventual emergence as somewhat of a broken spirit.
Here’s another passage from the book that I think makes this point: Nick Warren was a physical and spiritual embodiment of every boy in Lori’s life that had left her longing for more. Around him she could smell the same thick, pungent odor of danger that she could sense with the rest, musky pheromones flaring her nostrils and moistening her mouth and continuing to make her crave more. He was her past literally coming back to haunt her. Except unlike her real past that left her feeling hollow and disillusioned, Nick teased her with the notion of finally filling that echoing void within.
The Dragon: When I'm interviewed, many people ask me if my heroine, Chariss, is an autobiographical character, and I give a resounding "no way". She's too good to be based on me. But let me ask that question of you. Do you feel there are elements of Lori Solomon that you pulled from yourself? Are there elements of you that you slid into her character? And how do you feel those elements contribute to her "driven, neurotic, intelligent, insecure, talented" nature?
Ellen Weisberg: Most of the characters in Gathering Roses, with the exception of Nick Warren, are amalgams of two, three, and sometimes even four different people I’ve been friends with. Many of Lori’s perceptions, interpretations, doubts, and desires were inspired by late night phone conversations with girlfriends of mine that I could all too well relate to. That having been said, though, there are definitely elements of Lori that I pulled from myself… with no one else to blame. There are actual experiences that I had that snaked their way into and throughout the story, although the time line’s been (strongly) tinkered with. I personally wish I wasn’t as neurotic and insecure as Lori, but the psychiatric community would probably beg to differ, as that’s what’s helping keep them in business. And I’ve heard there’s a fine line between being “driven/intelligent/talented” and needing to channel inordinate amounts of anxiety and nervous energy into something that won’t cause irreparable damage to the biosphere.
The Dragon: The marketing material for Gathering Roses mentions substance abuse and at least one character, Nick, with a sexual appetite. Would you classify this novel as an adult novel for those reasons? What other themes or plot devices do you feel make this a mature novel?
Ellen Weisberg: Yes, I would classify this novel as general adult fiction, because while the characters were made to be young, the underlying themes are those that I feel the average adult could relate to. There’s Lori’s friend, Rutherford, who divulges his true feelings about himself to Lori at times, yet is more inclined to resort to womanizing and self-medicating with food, drugs and alcohol to escape what he doesn’t want to face up to. Lori’s friend, Angela, shares with the other characters a poor self-perception that she attributes mostly to conflicts encountered with her parents and peers. Like Rutherford, Angela shares an addictive personality, overindulging in food and alcohol. She is preoccupied with her physical appearance and her level of attractiveness to the opposite sex. Yet Angela’s character is more complex than the others in that she exhibits some characteristics of borderline personality disorder. Her moods are unstable, and her relationships are invariably intense and erratic, with a tendency to romanticize and undervalue others in rapid succession. And Nick Warren gives Gathering Roses an extra dimension of depth distinguishing it from other novels regarding women’s self-esteem and relationship issues.
Many of the tensions arising between Lori and Nick are due to their very different personalities and lifestyles: Lori is introverted and studious, while Nick is nonconformist and free-spirited. However, the conflicts are more so due to the fact that Nick-as the story unfolds-is living his life in a way that many of us don’t. He buries his fears in a façade that consists of trying to get as much out of life as he can in the short amount of time he knows he has. Emotional attachments and the stresses and annoyances that often come as part of the package will only get in his way of living his life the way he wants to live it. His push-pull, seemingly emotionally detached way of dealing with people is difficult for Lori to understand, as she is blinded by her own demons. She internalizes his behavior as a kind of subtle rejection, not understanding that the underlying mortality issue is to a large extent fueling his behavior. So again, yes, the themes and subplots in Gathering Roses are mature and a far cry from what you would see in paperback bring-to-the-beach-to-escape chick-lit, and probably wouldn’t go over well with the parents of anyone under the age of 18. Although that isn’t to say that the content might not be appropriate for the parents themselves!
The Dragon: Did you find it difficult to write characters and scenes that led Lori astray? Nick and the others seem to be devices that literally stump her as she should be getting on the "right track," yet they're so far off track that they derail her…somewhat deliberately.
Ellen Weisberg: Much of what I wrote about was based on real-life conversations and events. The content wasn’t challenging, since it was mostly there for the taking. What was challenging was putting everything together so that there was flow and continuity (this is where the fictionalization of the story really came into play). Similar to what happened to me in real life during the course of knowing the people who inspired the characters, I think the people in Lori’s life get her wheels in motion and force her to look more closely at everyone and everything. Lori wouldn’t have the chance to learn and grow if she took the antics of her friends too much to heart and didn’t question where all of it was coming from. This is especially true for Lori’s relationship with Nick, which is difficult from the beginning to the end. His transient acceptance placates her for only as long as the acceptance lasts, and his rejection validates her innermost fears. Yet, agonizing as the ride may be, it forces Lori to look more deeply into herself and to better understand the source of the pain inside of her that’s driving her to seek out yet more pain.
This passage, I think, illustrates this point: The pure, dense, black and white reasoning Lori knew from when she was a child had somehow over the years turned gray and pixilated. She thought she knew what she needed to get through life, to get through life in a “path of least resistance” kind of way. Yet there was also the question of what she wanted. What she believed she wanted was not at all the same thing as what she needed. What she believed she needed seemed to be all she was expected to have. And all she was expected to have just didn’t seem to be enough.
Knowing Nick gets Lori more in touch with the complex person she really is, and will likely continue to be.
Here’s another illustrative passage: She wondered how her cravings got to be so complex, so difficult to fulfill in a simple, straightforward way. Whether it was what she was doing or whom she was doing, she seemed to have the same forces tugging at her in opposing directions. She wanted serenity and stability, yet she didn’t want boredom. She wanted mystery and excitement, yet she didn’t want trouble. She wanted to live her life like there was no tomorrow, experience all there was to experience and not feel the least bit of regret for not doing what she wanted. At the same time, she didn’t want to regret having done what she wanted because it in the end was not the right thing to do.
The Dragon: Now, Today the Dragon Wins is a site that primarily speaks to other writers, so I'd like to ask you a few questions about your writing process and about you as a writer. I understand that you worked through a terribly painful time in your life by writing. It's been said, and I fully ascribe to this theory, that creators like us writers are at our most creative when we're in pain. Would you be willing to share with visitors to The Dragon today what inspired you during the writing of Gathering Roses?
Ellen Weisberg: I started writing the book a number of years ago, and what it began as was something completely different from what it eventually ended up being. The manuscript was lifted up and dusted off when I started getting involved in radio broadcasting. While my professional training is in research, I did part-time board operation and voice-overs for a few years-more or less for fun. I started meeting all of these very interesting and colorful people along the way, and found myself gradually accumulating material that prompted me to start writing again. The person who initially trained me on the mixing board was the person who inspired the character “Nick.” Again, while the timing of actual events is helter-skelter in the book and liberties were taken as to what details were included or excluded or modified for dramatic effect, the person behind the Nick character really did have a heart condition when I met him and ended up dying at an early age. He had known that I was writing the book, had asked me from time to time to read passages to him, and joked about how he would be entitled to profits should the story eventually be published and sell. The very last time I saw him, I did get to show him a contract that I was offered by a literary agent. I figure that at least I got the chance to make him aware that I was trying to do something with it.
The Dragon: Is that what prompted you to decide the proceeds from the sales from Gathering Roses would be donated to charities?
Ellen Weisberg: Yes. Personal proceeds for Gathering Roses are going to the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross.
The Dragon: Why did you select The American Heart Association and The American Red Cross specifically?
Ellen Weisberg: My friend had a heart transplant. He believed in raising awareness of the importance of organ donation and blood drives, and so I feel these would be organizations he’d want to see supported.
The Dragon: I'm intrigued to learn that you have a short story in the fantasy genre. Will you tell visitors about it and where it's available?
Ellen Weisberg: The story is called “Fruit of the Vine,” and it has been published in the February/March issue of PKA’s Advocate. “Fruit of the Vine” is a short fantasy for elementary school-aged readers. It tells of Justin, a sensitive, introspective boy whose physical features and personality make him a convenient target for many of his cruel peers. One night he wakes to find he has “traveled” to a mysterious island, where he meets several of its inhabitants. Despite his desperation to find out where he is and, more importantly, how to get home, he becomes involved in the plight of Irvino, a creature who is ostracized on this island much in the way that Justin is in his own world. The story ends with a twist as Justin, in helping Irvino in his plight, ends up accomplishing much more. “Fruit of the Vine” is therefore meant not only for the grade school aged fantasy reader, but also anyone interested in the important topic of bullies, and also how altruistic qualities develop in children.
Here is some information about PKA’s Advocate:
ADVOCATE, PKA’S PUBLICATION: 1881 Little Westkill Rd., Prattsville, NY 12468. Bi-monthly advocates good writing and art by publishing fiction and nonfiction stories (to 1,500 words), poetry (any length), illustration and photos by newcomers. "We wish to give an opportunity to be published to those not earning a living as writers," says publisher Patricia Keller. TIP: Well written horse stories, poetry, B&W art and photos are needed. Submit complete middle grade and YA mss. Acquires first rts. Pays with contributor copies.
The Dragon: Ellen, it's been a pleasure to speak with you today, and I'm delighted that you stopped by The Dragon. I'm sure my visitors will have additional questions for you throughout the day, and I invite you to stop in again later on to see what they've come up with. Thank you for your time!
To order a copy of Gathering Roses, visit one of these pages…and don't forget to ask your questions of Ellen!
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