This month featuring Kelly Schendel, author of Wonder Why.
Wonder Why is the first of your novels that I beta read. Immediately I felt myself pulled into the emotional terrain of your protagonist, Elaine, a musician famous in the 70’s who is coming to terms, decades later, with all that fame has cost her. Hunkering down behind the emotional walls she’s built for self-protection, she still hasn’t dealt with the sudden death of her twin, Michael, back when their band was at the height of its glory, nor grieved the daughter she lost back then. I found her thoughts towards her daughter (as she begins to see her need to grieve) especially moving:
“But what you don’t know, dearest, is that is just one demon of a hundred. What good would it do to set that one free when there are ninety nine others—most of them much darker, infinitely uglier—fighting to take its place? Those are the ones I hope I never meet again. Locking them up the first time was hard enough.”
As if this isn’t enough, Elaine has left behind a string of lovers, and is a newly grieving widow. How did you plumb the depths of such emotional despair without your writing devolving into melodrama?
Though Wonder Why is the story of a very emotional journey, I wanted to allow the plot to drive the novel, and not Elaine’s feelings. There was always another plot point to be revealed, another piece of her past that floated to the surface and must be dealt with, and I think that is what kept it from bogging down in the melodrama of her emotions.
With any novel exploring a character’s spiritual journey, there is the possibility of boring readers with too much of the protagonist’s self-absorption. How did you offset this danger in Wonder Why?
I think having Elaine’s children join her on her physical and spiritual journey into her past prevented her from falling apart, from succumbing to the temptation to wallow for too long. Children are very grounding; they have a way of making you see what is really important. Krista, Maggie, and particularly Henry always brought her focus back to the present, the here and now, the good things in her life, which kept her (and the story) from becoming too self-absorbed.
Were any of your characters a struggle for you, and if so why?
Cary, the antagonist, presented the greatest challenge. I changed his role a few times before I finally found one that resonated with me. I struggled with giving him realistic motives that the reader would find believable without turning him psycho. Cary is a reporter who has been fixated on hunting down and finding Elaine, his rock idol, for over thirty years, and the line between that and psychological obsession is a fine line. At the end, I was happy with his character arc, and the way that he was able to grow and change throughout the story. I hope the reader can see that he will lead a happier life going forward, now that he has come to terms with his feelings about his idol.
What advice do you have for writers struggling to find their unique voices?
Read—a lot. Novels, newspapers, short stories, books about writing. I don’t think anything is more important, other than practicing the craft of writing on a daily basis. I found Donald Maass’ book, The Fire in Fiction to be very useful. It helped me find the weaknesses and the strengths in my writing. I have found that it is possible to write using the basic ‘rules’ for fiction and novel writing and still preserve my own voice. Also, be aware of your overall goal as you write. What are you trying to accomplish—to get published, create an enduring work of art, or change the way the reader looks at the world? My goal is to craft a story so compelling, with words so perfectly chosen, that when the reader is finished, she will hold my book to her chest and say, “That was wonderful.”
Your other novel, The Miranda Principle, is a mystery which on the surface appears to have nothing in common with Wonder Why. But at the heart of it is another strong female protagonist, Miranda, who is tough as nails on the outside—yet you allow glimpses of her inner vulnerability. How much of yourself do you see in these two women?
That is a hard one to answer! I have the same sort of goal-oriented determination as Miranda, I suppose, and for many years I was wrapped up in a ‘mommy’ cocoon like Elaine. Both Miranda and Elaine are strong women that got lost somewhere along the path of their life. Miranda’s power was taken from her by evil men, and Elaine lost hers in the depths of an overwhelming grief. Fortunately, neither of those things has ever happened to me. I do hope that readers will be able to identify with the sense of powerlessness that my protagonists experience. I think we all have seasons like that in our lives, times when we are at the mercy of events outside of our control. We can let those times define us, let them destroy us, or let them strengthen us. My characters progressed through all three of those levels before their stories were complete, and my hope is that their journeys will in some way challenge the reader’s view of their own life.
Wonder Why blurb:
When a reporter shows up at her husband’s funeral, former Seventies rock music icon Elaine Brooks is forced to confront the thirty-year-old tragedy that sent her into hiding. She undertakes a soul-plumbing journey of the body, heart and spirit, as she seeks to fulfill her husband’s dying wish and reconcile with her past. Whether the 1977 death of her beloved twin brother, Michael, was a suicide or an accidental drug overdose, is a question Elaine prefers to leave unanswered. The fact that her fifteen-year-old son, Henry, bears an uncanny resemblance to his famous uncle, and has also inherited his musical talent, adds to Elaine’s ongoing grief and increasing unease, because Henry fully intends to follow in his mother’s footsteps. She must set aside her own feelings to help him navigate the pitfalls of the dangerous life she once rejected—or risk losing him.
Elaine opens the door to her early life, and her children, Krista, 22, Maggie, 21, and Henry, discover shocking truths about their mother’s younger years, while watching her face her fears, overcome her regrets, and forgive the betrayal that fueled her thirty-year disappearance. Their relationship with their mother changes, and they come to know her as an individual with hopes and dreams not unlike their own. They will never look at her the same way again.
As she reconnects with her former band-mates and two long-lost lovers, Elaine uncovers a truth that changes everything she thought she understood about her brother’s death. She is finally able to break free and move beyond a devastating past that has always laid claim to more of her heart than it deserved.
About the author
Kelly Schendel is the author of two novels, Wonder Why and The Miranda Principle. She is a graduate of the Indiana University School of Journalism, a mother of four, and operates her own successful ecommerce business in the San Antonio, Texas, area.