Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Whisper to a Scream by Karen Wojcik Berner: Interview & Excerpt

Ovulation detectors. Hormone surges. Anxiety-ridden dreams. This is the world in which Annie Jacobs is thrust when she and her husband John receive a diagnosis of unexplained infertility. A 37-year old PR executive, Annie has wanted to be a mother since she first cuddled her Baby Tenderlove at age five. She is dreading another Christmas of relatives asking when they will be hearing the pitter patter of little feet, and Uncle Joe slapping John on the back, telling him to relax and take a cruise. Lots of people get pregnant on vacation, you know.

Across town, stay-at-home mom of two, Sarah Anderson, attempts grocery shopping with a toddler intent on hurling items from the cart at passersby. She notices a box of rice heading straight for a gray-haired head. Leaping across the aisle, Sarah grabs it, saving the woman from certain doom, or at least a minor head injury. Little Alex screams at being thwarted. The unknowing octogenarian shakes her head and admonishes Sarah for not knowing how to keep her child quiet in public.

"A Whisper to a Scream" is the story of two women on opposite ends of the child-bearing spectrum who come to realize the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side of the fence. A vivid portrayal of contemporary marriage and its problems, the novel speaks to a longing in all of us, a yearning that might start as a vague notion, but eventually grows into an unbearable, vociferous cry.

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At 35 years old, Sarah Anderson discovered something quite shocking. She had Attention Deficit Disorder – she didn’t get any. Men saw right through her, noticing the children she toted about, one hanging on her leg and one in her arms, but quickly dispelling her, as if the kids were somehow suspended in mid-air, like receivers on Monday Night Football. She wasn’t sure if she had made this correlation herself or had seen it as a joke on the comedy channel. What did her sleep-deprived brain know anyway? How comforting to know her life could be summed up by a punch line.
As she neared the end of the grocery store aisle, she pulled her cart to a screeching halt, barely missing the man wearing a business suit and cyborg earpiece who just cut in front of her. He continued his conversation, rolling over her foot as he passed.
“I’m in an all-day meeting on Monday. How’s Tuesday look?”

“Asshole,” she whispered, hoping her son would not hear. “C’mon, Alex. Let’s get this over with.”
The toddler was playing his favorite shopping game, throwing things from the cart at passersby. Alex had a small box of rice in his hands. Sarah mistakenly thought shaking it might amuse him, but instead the little guy was ready to chuck it at the pink-babushkaed head of an octogenarian when Sarah turned around from choosing a linguine. Spotting the just-released rice, she leapt across the aisle, caught it on the fly and tossed it in the basket. Alex cried at being thwarted. Sarah smiled, only to be admonished by the scarved lady for not knowing how to keep her child quiet in the store.
“These kids nowadays. They run the show, not the parents.” The little woman, oblivious to her near-miss, pushed her cart past Sarah’s, who stared in shock as the pink head became lost in the crowd of shoppers. Alex cried louder. Sarah gave him some fish crackers and continued on.
At last, they were finished and headed for the check out lanes. “Hey! Record time. You were a pretty good boy in the grocery store. Mommy really appreciates that.” Sarah kissed her son on the check. Alex responded by smiling and slapping her in the face.
At home, Sarah put the baby down for his nap. She had time (approximately ten minutes) before she had to get about doing all of the things she couldn’t do while he was up, such as cleaning out the refrigerator, emptying the dishwasher and going to the washroom.
A large part of her day was spent cleaning up after Hurricane Alex, who left a path of destruction in his wake. Like most small toddlers, he had mastered “take out,” but had yet to grasp “put in.” Duplos were poured out of their container. His bookshelf was empty, and a pile of children’s literature lay underneath. Every piece of Tupperware she owned was thrown on the kitchen floor. In the powder room, the toilet paper had been unraveled and left in a heap. Blocks were sprinkled throughout the living room.
Then there was Nicky’s stuff. Piles of school papers, library books and half-done puzzles, all heaped on the dining room table. Green army men on the kitchen counter were poised and ready to attack. Too bad she couldn’t have them report for cleaning duty.

The family room had walls so scuffed up they were begging for a new paint job. Was that a booger on the wall? Yes, Alex had used the wall for a tissue again. Video games and their boxes were thrown around the television. Completing the tenement look was a large piece of plywood in front of the fireplace that concealed a half-broken glass door, which combusted and shattered one night while Sarah and Tom were trying to have an evening for two after the kids went to bed.
Sarah slumped onto the sofa, baffled that she could even live in a place that looked like this. In college, her friends called her room “the museum.” It was pristine. Everything had its proper place. When she would answer the hall phone, Lisa would sneak in and make one tiny change, just enough to drive her crazy. One time, she turned one of her books upside down. Another time, she switched the order of her cassettes, which, of course, were alphabetized. Sarah craved one full day where everything would stay in its place. Smiling at that thought, she sipped some Earl Gray.

The front door slammed open. “I’m starving,” yelled Nicky, throwing his jacket, hat, mittens and scarf right in the foyer.
“Hey, what are you doing here?”

“Half-day. Remember?”

“Oh, that’s right,” Damn, she thought she had two more hours of quiet. “Welcome home, sweetie.” She gave him a kiss. “Did you have a good day?”
“Yeah.” He started emptying his backpack – lunch box, home folder, Market Day order form, Scholastic Book order sheet, reminder of Multicultural Fair on Monday night – all dumped on the dining room table. “We had PE and got to climb the rock wall today. We can go horizontally, but when I get into second grade, we can start climbing up. When I get into fifth grade, we can go past the ledge...”
Nicholas was the perfect blend of his parents, having his father’s looks and build right down to the same blue eyes and dark hair and his mother’s wit and touch of melancholy. He was a dear, sweet child who proved to be a formidable opponent for Sarah in the battle of wills to assert his independence that had become a daily event.
“...And then Robbie threw up all over his desk. Lots of kids are sick in my class. It’s going around, you know. Mommy, can I have something to eat?”

They heard a loud howl, followed by the slam of a crib against the wall.
“You woke Alex up.” Sarah started toward the stairs hoping to persuade her baby to go back to sleep. She had a sneaking suspicion Alex was on the verge of eliminating his nap. This was unfortunate, for Sarah had every indication that Alex would be her napping child, basing this assumption on his older brother’s sleeping habits, which, basically, did not exist. Nick gave up napping cold turkey two weeks before his second birthday and had not slept anywhere near the average amount of hours required for a child his age since. The later you tucked him in, the earlier he rose.
“But m-o-m, I’m hungry!” Nicky screamed after her.
“I have to get Alex.”
“I’m starving to death.” He dropped to the floor in a fit that was worthy of an Oscar.
She ducked into the pantry and threw a packet of Fruit Snacks at him. “Here, these should hold you over until I get back downstairs. I’ll be right back, and then I’ll get you both a snack.” 

The cries became louder and more irritated with each stair. It was Friday and that meant only one thing. Alex had had enough of Sarah for the week. She picked him up, still crying, despite her pleasant banter and attempts to soothe him. “Nicky’s home!” This proved to finally bring a smile to his face. Another person to play with besides mom. Sarah put Alex down on his blankey in the family room. Nick bent down and tickled his stomach. Alex giggled, repeating what sounded like “eye” since he couldn’t talk yet.

“Here Nick.” 

Sarah got him a few of store-bought chocolate chip cookies from the barn-shaped cookie jar. “Mooooooooo.” Sarah bought it as a deterrent, but it was all for naught. She still ate them. Every cookie she ate made her feel guilty on two counts. One, that she was chubby and needed no more sweets ingested. Two, that she had not baked in at least one year. Wasn’t that what stay-at-home mothers were supposed to do? Her mom seemed to have the time. Why didn’t she?
Reprinted from A Whisper to a Scream (The Bibliophiles: Book One) by Karen Wojcik Berner, Copyright © 2011 by Karen Wojcik Berner.

Tell us about your current release.

The six Bibliophile novels are about members of a fictional classics book club. However, unlike most series, in which readers follow one character through various adventures, mine is a little different. Each member of the book club "stars" in his or her own book, telling his or her story up until they join. The storyline of the book club will also be furthered throughout the series. 

The first book, A Whisper to a Scream, centers on Sarah, a stay-at-home

mother of two, and Annie, a PR executive with fertility issues. When they first meet, each thinks the other’s life is so much better than her own. But, ultimately they learn otherwise.

Where did you get the idea for the novel?

I got the idea for this book in the shower, of all places. Of course, at that time in my life, my sons were much younger, seven and two, so the shower was the only place I could get a moment’s peace. I had this image of a woman who was almost invisible, lugging children around a grocery store. Then came the opening line, “At 35 years old, Sarah Anderson discovered something quite shocking. She had Attention Deficit Disorder – she didn’t get any.”

I also could not shake a very vivid dream I had a few nights before, the details of which I cannot divulge here because they have to do with Annie’s plot line. So I had Sarah and a traumatized Annie. Then I thought, “What if these two women met?”

Do you listen to music while writing? If so, what?

Absolutely! I have songs that get me in the right mood to write various characters, such as Peter Gabriel’s “Blood of Eden,” for John, Annie’s husband, in A Whisper to a Scream, which is actually quoted in the book. I had to get permission from The God of Music, which is what I call Peter Gabriel and mandated my children to do so as well. That was an amazing experience in and of itself. He asked to read the scene before he let me use it. I cannot tell you how cool it was to know Peter Gabriel read and approved of my work. Okay, sorry, I am gushing. I will stop now.

Green Day’s “American Idiot” helped me get into Catherine Elbert’s head when I was first writing my second novel.

I listen to classical music when I am actually putting pen to paper, which I do first before entering the manuscript into the computer. (I know, I am a fossil.) Music without words helps me to form my own.

Do you have a favorite quote, quip or saying? What is it?

“You may say to yourself: ‘Well, how did I get here?’” from David Byrne in his Talking Heads days. This question is the crux of my writing. I am fascinated by people’s backstories. How did they get to where they are today? What are the ramifications of the past on the present?

Entice us, what future projects are you considering?

The second of the Bibliophile books, Until My Soul Gets It Right, is scheduled to be released in late spring, which I am really excited about. This is Catherine Elbert’s journey as she bounces from coast to coast in search of her true self.

Describe what it’s like to be an author in three words.

Gut-wrenching. Stressful. Wondrous.

Well, that’s it from me for now.  Thanks so much for taking time out and being here today.  It’s been a pleasure talking to you!

Karen Wojcik Berner grew up on the outskirts of Chicago. After graduating from Dominican University with degrees in English with a writing concentration and communications, she worked as a magazine editor, public relations coordinator and freelance writer. A two-time Folio Magazine Ozzie Award for Excellence in Magazine Editorial and Design winner, her work has appeared in countless newspapers and magazines. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her family.

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inluvwithwords said...

Great interview. Loved getting this glimpse into the book. Thanks.

Disincentive said...

I already wrote answer in other giveaway ;) I find character to love in every book.