We haven’t talked in ages, so I figure we have a lot of catching up to do “off book.” For now, we’ll just jump in. Tell us, Oh Linda: What makes a good story?
You need some kind of conflict to keep the reader asking “how will this ever be resolved?” You also need characters that the reader cares about, even if they’re flawed or do bad things. Most readers enjoy stories of redemption because we want to believe everyone can be healed and redeemed.
I’ve read and reviewed IN THE CONTEXT OF LOVE, so I know the answer, but can you tell my readers if any of the characters in your novel are mirrored after real life people?
They’re a conglomeration of people I’ve known. Much of Joe’s cool is based on a boy I dated in high school. There’s a good dollop of my mother, who could be tight-fisted, controlling and opinionated, in Angelica’s mother and grandmother. My father was a great dad, but he could also be unemotional, like her father, and they both told impossibly corny jokes. And there is some of myself in my main character, Angelica, in that we both have obsessions and a dark side.
IN THE CONTEXT OF LOVE is about family and the lies we tell ourselves. Where did this come from?
It stems from the myth of the perfect family. We look at other families and wonder how their lives can be so perfect when, in reality, they aren’t. There’s some level of dysfunction in every family. Also, some people go through a stage where they don’t think they belong in their family. They feel like misfits. After Angelica accidentally discovers a life-altering family secret, she can’t reconcile reality with the fantasy she was raised believing, and has to leave home to find her own truth. The novel is also a love story on many levels.
Why is the novel written in second person?
Actually it’s first person-second person address–
You’re frightening me…
Lol. The story is deeply intimate. Angelica Schirrick is a mother with two young children who must reassess her life when her husband lands in jail. When she was a teen, she suffered heartache after the sudden disappearance of her first and only love, Joe Vadas. This was followed by an unexpected betrayal within her family. Now, as an adult, she realizes she needs to speak without shame about this devastating family secret, and she wants to tell her story to Joe, the one person she truly trusted. So she does!
NICE! Do you believe in love at first sight?
I think it can happen darn fast! Love at first sight is immediate intense attraction. Angelica has a crush on Joe before she actually knows him, and he’s instantly attracted to her. From across the room, they play the “I look at you and you look at me” game. Both of them are true romantics.
What exactly is a romantic?
I think romantics have strong aesthetic sensibilities. They seek out what is noble, truthful and beautiful in life. They form deep and lasting bonds with other people, and easily pick up on other’s emotions. They also tend to project their emotions onto others, which leads them to idealize people. They are always looking for meaning in life. As Joe said to Angelica, “We belong together. We always did, and it will be this way no matter where our lives take us.” Angelica wants to believe this, but she needs a little convincing. I guess it’s up to the reader to believe if they will always be together!
What’s new for you in publishing?
I’m super proud to be in a new anthology by McFarland titled IDOL TALK: Women Writers on the Teenage Infatuations that Changed Their Lives, featuring dozens of kick-ass female writers. It has fun, distinctly unique, and sexy stories of the right-of-passage experience of “puppy love.” I wrote about my “Horrible Celebrity Crush.” I cannot tell you who he is. It was all too horrible at the time. Seriously. You’ll have to read about it.
That sounds super! Hey, I’m thinking about heading down to Detroit for the annual Dream Cruise. Shall I bang on your door?
Lol. Call first. 😀
Will do! Thanks for dropping by, Linda. You inspire.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz writes about ordinary people on extraordinary journeys. She is the author of the multi-award-winning novel In the Context of Love. Her poetry, short stories and essays have appeared in more than 50 literary journals and anthologies. Among her awards are a Poetry Chapbook Award and a Pushcart Prize Nomination. Her MFA is from Stonecoast. She blogs about the oddities of life and the creative process at http://lindaksienkiewicz.com/blog/
If you enjoy gripping love stories and family roller coasters that leave you with the feeling there is still good in the world, you’ll enjoy In the Context of Love, an intensely charged story about family secrets, love and lust.
2017 New Apple Official Selection Award for Excellence
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist
2016 Sarton Women’s Book Awards Finalist
2016 Reader’s Choice Finalist
2016 USA Book News Best Book Finalist
What makes us step back to examine the events and people that have shaped our lives? And what happens when what we discover leads to more questions? In the Context of Love revolves around the journey of Angelica Schirrick as she reevaluates her life and its direction.
First Chapter of
IN THE CONTEXT OF LOVE
I had convinced myself I could stomach seeing Gavin since social services told me it was in the children’s best interest to see their father. Despite his trespasses, I knew they missed him. They needed to see for themselves where he was, and that he was in one piece, but I certainly didn’t need or want any such assurances. The closer we got to the Madison Correctional Center, the sicker I felt. I knew it wasn’t going to be a picnic, but I’m not sure I can convey how awful it was.
Michelle, age ten, remained glued to my side, chewing her lip. Jude fidgeted like a typical eight-year-old. I’d brought games and books for them to share with Gavin, which, as it turned out, we had to leave in the car. They shuffled nervously into the visiting room, eyeballing the prisoners. Many of them looked like any man you might see working behind the counter at the post office, stocking soup cans at the supermarket, or delivering a package to your front door. Some flinched oddly; others had bristled jaws or tattoos on their necks. I studied their hands, wondering if they’d forced a woman to her knees, pulled a trigger,or simply written a batch of bad checks.
Gavin’s face looked etched with lines,and his clothes hung on his wire-hanger frame. The four of us sat at a metal table, falling into the same seating arrangement we used to take at the dinner table. He seemed unable to look us in the eyes. I was glad he’d ditched his typical smugness. There was no way he could clown his way out of this one—the damage he’d caused was as clear and tangible as the waxed floor and steel bars. In a weaker moment, I might have pitied him, but mostly my heart ached for our kids. I was fuming that that we had to be here at all.
“Hey. Thanks for coming,” he said quietly, sitting rigidly, shoulders clenched, kneading his hands in his lap.
I glared at him for a few seconds, thensmiled. “Gee. Thanks for having us.”
He exhaled hard, as if it were my job to make this easier for him. He scuffed his feet around under the table, then said, “So, yeah, this is where I’ll be holed up for awhile, but I’m okay. It’s not so bad. I get to watch TV and play cards and work out. The food is lousy, but I can’t complain.” I lifted my chin and glared at him. Why couldn’t he say he was sorry? Was he? Did he even wonder what I’d toldthekids about where he was, and why? The two of us hadn’t spoken to each other since our blow up in the kitchen, and that was before his arrest and sentencing. I was angry at myself for sugar-coating things when I should have been blunt with the children.
Jude looked up, a mix of nervousness and innocent concern on his face as he picked at the dried blood from a scab on his elbow. “Dad?”
“What, big buddy? Go on. Ask me anything.”
He wanted to know if they slid Gavin’s meals under the bars in his cell, if his bathroom had a door, if he slept with a pillow and blanket, and wore leg chains when he went outside. Michelle asked if he had a roommate and his own television. I imagine they had expected to see him wearing a blackandwhite striped uniform, like in old movies, and his state-issued blue pants and shirt disappointed them, but at least they found something to talk about. Gavin loosened up and soon had them laughing. I was amazed that he found something to joke about. Was it a gift, the way he always made the best of things or was he in denial?
“Yeah, so don’t worry about me. Just remember, I’m still your father,” he said, his eyes catching mine when visiting time was over. He needn’t have worried we would forget. “You guys be good, you hear? Love you both.” It wasn’t unexpected that his love no longer included me, but hearing it smarted.
Rules stipulated that inmates couldn’t hug or touch visitors. Michelle started to cry. The guard said he couldn’t give us extra time. Red-eyed, Gavin turned his head and coughed into his fist. She pushed my hands away when I tried to comfort her on the walk out.
Once outside, Michelle hollered at Jude that he had asked dopey questions. He punched her in the back and told her to “get real.” He asked me in his high-pitched, boy voice, “Can we put Dad inside a big box and sneak him out next time we visit?” I shut my eyes and took a deep breath, having no idea what was going to happen to us. This was something I couldn’t fix.
“Sorry, kiddo. It doesn’t work that way.”
“You’re such a dope, Jude,” Michelle said.She looked up at me. “It’syour fault, you know.”
I stopped walking and grabbed her arm. “Sweetie, what are you talking about?”
Lips tight, she just shrugged. I made her look at me while I explained her father was the one who broke the law, and he did that all on his own. “Even Daddy doesn’t blame anyone but himself. Do you understand?”
Michelle was too young for her brows to be pinched together the way they were, so much like mine. “Do we have to come here again? It sucks. I hate it.”
“No. Not if you don’t want to. What about you, Jude?”
He was standing off by himself, scratching his elbow. “I don’t know. Won’t he be mad if we don’t visit?”
“Don’t worry about him being mad. You know what? You should be mad at him.”
I tried not to rage in despair as I drove home. Michelle’s hands were clenched in her lap, her forehead pressed to the glass of the front passenger door. She grunted and pulled away when I reached across the seat to touch her. Jude, in the back seat, sliced his hands through the air while making terrible noises, like screaming jet fighters, machine guns and scudding bombs. I’d prepared a list of questions to help them process the visit, such as What did you like? What didn’t you like? What made you feel better? but now it sounded like psycho babble. The entire trip had been hell.
For whatever reason, I thought of you again, and how different my life might have been had we still been together. I brought my right hand up, as if fixing my hair, so that Michelle wouldn’t see my angry tears. Where were you? Why was everything so hard? I wanted to scream. Honestly, I hated you almost as much as I hated Gavin at that moment. You had become the scapegoat for everything that had gone wrong in the last fifteen years, even though I was certain I still loved you.
Filing for divorce when your spouse is in prison is no different from when he’s not, and since Gavin didn’t contest, there were no lawyers or lengthy mediations. I got the house and everything in it, the station wagon, our savings, the credit card debt I hadn’t known about, and a spongy backyard full of moles. His chauffeuring business was dissolved. I sold his wrecked ‘86 Cadillac Seville for parts.
Despite everything, I missed him. It made no sense—after all, he had been gone more than he was at home. It was only his likeness that had slithered like a cold snake in and out of our bed for such a long time. I cried like a baby in the middle of the night while craving a fifth of Chivas Regal. I developed an irrational fear of sharp things. The idea that my flesh could be torn open by broken window glass, a tin can, or the edge of an innocuous piece of paper sent me into shivers. Anything could catch me unaware, cut and bleed me. Nights were shadowy and deep with no stars, and I felt disoriented and exhausted in the morning, as if I’d been pushing my way through drifts of snow to get to the other side of something. The same old fears that began in high school, after you disappeared as cleanly as if you’d been tied to an engine block and dumped in Lake Erie, came back. Sheathed in blue ice, I had no more substance than the frosted air that eked from my lungs.
Late at night, when the children were in bed, I would turn to your old tattered notebook, tucked safely in a box in the back of my closet. Reading your poems was one of the few things that gave me solace:
You cannot pass from child to adult
without falling into holes of doubt,
broken wheels of trust
and traps of betrayal.
In what ways had you been betrayed? What holes of doubt did you have? I was certain you and I felt the same sadnesses, even though our childhoods were vastly different. This thought made me feel close to you, as if, even in your absence you understood all I’d been through—my horrible secret, my mother’s pain, my family’s betrayal, my husband’s disloyalty, and my own unfaithfulness.
Copyright © 2015 Linda K. Sienkiewicz
Published in the United States by Buddhapuss Ink, LLC, Edison, New Jersey. All rights are reserved.