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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Author Day on Beat Street: Cries from the Heart

My mother was sitting in the front seat and we were parked on a side street in Fort Lee, New Jersey. I was in the back seat, six or seven years old, and we were about to go shopping for shoes.

"I've tried all my life to be a good person," she said. "Why can't I be thin?"

It was the first time my mother had ever spoken freely to me about her feelings and I had no idea what to say. I just listened, I think, though I may have said, "I don't know" or "What?" To me, she was just my mom. I didn't notice her weight or care much about it.

As I got older, I learned more of my mother's struggles with weight and how quickly it would go up and down throughout the year. But what struck me most on that day was that she chose, for better or worse, to confide something that she would never say to most anyone else. As children, we generally speak openly about our deepest fears and desires. As adults, not so much, because we know we can be shot down so easily.

Playwrights and novelists are always looking for those moments because they make the kind of drama people will stand out in the rain to see. For want of a better phrase, I think the French call them "cri de coeur" -- a cry from the heart.

As an experiment, I decided to recall some of these cries (without identifying them) to share some of the moments that inspired me as a playwright.

"I really don't know the first thing about friends. I never had any."

"All I ever really wanted was a family."

"You don't follow rules. You just barge through them. I, on the other hand, never learned to live my own life."

"I've had a lot of sex, but a relationship? I don't know what that means."

"Do you think people like me?"

"You have the possibility to be great. All I have are my looks. And who knows how long that'll last?"

These are just a few examples, and though I haven't used them verbatim, I've kept them packed away in my bag of tricks because it's our job as writers and playwrights to capture stand-out moments and make them relatable to an audience.

If you are a writer, you look for those moments and hopefully, remember them. If not, well, that's what notebooks are for. And you don't need to reveal who the person is saying them-- fact it's best if you don't.

But hold on to them, for sure. They may open a door to even deeper stories and confidences. Including your own.

Before I go, I also want to share this link from Books Go Social with middle-grade and YA book ideas for the holidays--including The Beat on Ruby's Street. Hope you'll check it out!

Woman at window photo: Claudia Dea