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Cindy L. Freeman   – Getting Real –  4/25/18

As an author, a challenging task for me is to create characters who possess value systems different from my own. I struggle to express, on paper, attitudes and actions that are contrary to my own belief system. Take, for example, swearing—or “cussin’,” as my sweet mother-in-law used to say. I don’t believe in taking God’s name in vain, and I find the “f-bomb” repugnant. Yet, what if one of my characters would be more authentic by spewing obscenities or by being sexually explicit or abhorrently cruel?

Some horrific stories, as in my novel, The Dark Room, are just too important not to be told. The Dark Roomdescribes the physical, emotional, and verbal abuse of a woman, her child, and her grandchild. Often Stella’s husband, Hank is drunk or high on drugs when he administers the abusive language and beatings. While the story is fiction, it represents too many true accounts of battered women and abused children.

I wanted The Dark Room and its characters to be authentic. I wanted real victims to recognize themselves in Stella and realize that whether the abuse is overt or subtle, they don’t deserve it, and help is available if they reach out.

To make Hank plausible, I had to create a persona that is wholly egregious to my sensibilities. Hank is cruel, controlling, filled with rage, and unable to express his grief in a healthy way. Instead, he tries to numb his emotional pain with drugs and alcohol. He lashes out and alienates the very people who could provide support.

Through research for this book, I discovered case studies that verified the authenticity of my accounts. The cruelty described in The Dark Roomis more prevalent in American society than most people realize or are willing to admit. Men from all walks of life beat and belittle women and children every day. These men are emotionally damaged and have a need to control and overpower others. They are attracted to those who seem least likely to fight back or tostand up for their rights as human beings. They convince their victims that they are worthless and at fault for their behavior.

If I have an important story like The Dark Room to tell, should I dilute its impact by writing a cleaned-up version? Do I tread on the side of caution or do I set aside my own discomfort to develop authentic characters? It’s a decision with which I struggle, knowing that my written words will outlive me. Perhaps I’ll never completely reconcile this issue. Overall, I feel a responsibility to my readers to give them authentic characters, but I draw the line at adding sensationalism and obscenity just to sell books.


Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: Diary in the AtticUnrevealed and The Dark Room. Website:; Facebook page: Cindy Loomis Freeman. Her books are available through or




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Peter Stipe – Writer’s Block

Peter Stipe

Where do I get my story ideas?  Do I ever face writer’s block?  Let me explain why I’m never at a loss for stories.  Several years ago my wife Debbie and I left Miami heading to Key West for a few days vacation.  I drove the two-lane road through the swamps, emerged at Key Largo and turned right to drive the length of the keys.  An hour down the road we hit a thunderstorm and stopped to ride out the rain over lunch.

The town was Islamorada.  The bar was open-air but roofed and shadowy with wide doorways allowing flashes of the outside light and the storm.  We were sheltered from the rain.  Palm fronds flapped at the corners of the wide doorways framing a view of the ocean.  The parking lot was loaded with pickup trucks, each with a tool box on the back and the bar was filled with men dodging their carpenter jobs due to the weather.  Or maybe it was just lunchtime.  My wife and I sat at a table close to the bar and ordered fried fish sandwiches.  I ordered a dark beer, Debbie ordered iced tea.  The men at the bar were all well along on their beer.  In front of each was a plate with leftover chips and sandwich crumbs.  Their lunches were finished, but not the beer.

While we waited for our sandwiches I eavesdropped on the carpenters.  One of them hunched over his drink and spoke to the bar, addressing the man next to him without making eye contact.  “Man, I really owe you for what you did.  I really needed someone to step up and help me with that.  You came through for me.”

The guy he spoke to clapped him on the shoulder.  “Not a problem.  Not at all.  Friendship is like manure.  It just stinks if you don’t spread it around.  But when you do spread it, everything comes up roses.”

Brilliant!  I stored the philosophy away.  Sometime, I promised myself, I would use that line in a story I was writing.  I haven’t found the right story yet so I’m sharing it in this blog.  Writer’s block?  No!  Every day I see something, or hear a line like that and I’m on my way with a new story.

Outside the bar a line of pelicans dipped by, drafting on the leader.   A cool after-storm breeze turned the palms in a new direction above the harbor.  The men finished their beers stood and left their money on the bar.  The rain had stopped.  It was time for them to go back to work.  Debbie and I were also done.  We paid and followed them out, driving on toward Key West, taking with us a new line for a new story.

Peter Stipe is the author of Finding Our Way; a collection of short stories, and The Art of Love, a novel.  Peter   Facebook: PeterGStipe