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Brenda Ferber

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    I'm a traditionally published children's book author looking to break out with a memoir for adults. I'm also a crisis counselor for Crisis Text Line and a lover of theater, tennis, and travel.

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  1. Oooh I love this! I love their friendship, and I especially love the mystery of why she feels guilty about Danny's death. I would definitely turn the page. The dialogue and setting and actions with Emma and Jane seem spot on to me. I do agree with Pat, though, about the wish for Nantucket at the end. I want to know more about how you want the reader to feel in that moment. Just a tiny bit of a hint would be great. How does Emma feel about that word popping into her head? One other typo at the beginning: How can it only be only six o'clock. I think you only need one only there. :-) Great work! And I love the story of how this came to be. I actually have a novel for kids coming out in August that grew in a similar way. It started as one small story, and I kept expanding it and expanding it until it turned itself into a novel!
  2. Thank you @L A Wibberley. I appreciate the feedback, and my heart goes out to you and your daughter. My daughter is actually doing amazing now. She's 26 and just got her MSW. She's a therapist! It was not an easy adolescence, as you can imagine. As an adult, she manages her mental illness incredibly well, thank goodness. Originally, she and I wrote the memoir together, alternating viewpoints. It turned out nobody wants to publish a memoir from two points of view. So we did surgery, and I finished revising my version. She is waiting to revise hers to see if I find a publisher first. But yes, you were right to pick up on the idea that there is another way of remembering the story.
  3. Thanks Pat. I will think about that. I can't include that scene because it's a memoir, and I wasn't there, but I'll think about how to address your response. :-)
  4. Thanks @Pat McCaw! I appreciate the feedback. The reason they assigned her a number was to get the victim herself to say things like I hate 1104. (Yikes, so awful!) Anyway, if that's not clear from the text, I'll revise it.
  5. Hi Spencer, I love the complex relationships you're mining here. One thing that felt off to me was the setting. They are in an airport terminal? How is that possible in today's world? Maybe they are in baggage claim? That would make more sense. But whatever the case, I didn't get a sense of the crowds of people and announcements and cool air conditioning etc. It seems more like three people just talking. Yes, the dialogue is rich and interesting. But if you could ground the reader more in a place and time, I think it would feel even more believable. I really love the secret affair that Janie and Penny know about. Does Mac know? Does Nancy know that Penny knows? I'm looking forward to learning more about this secret and how everyone has handled it so far and what they will do in the course of the story. Also looking forward to meeting this mystery man from Italy. One little question that bumped me out of the story is why does Nancy have so much to do with Janie's new job? Lastly, what is Penny's goal? Right now it seems like she doesn't have one. Why did she come along to the airport? What is she hoping for right now? I hope these thoughts are helpful! Good luck, Brenda
  6. Hi Pat, I love this opening! You weave in characterizations along with the action of flying on that scary little plane so well. I wonder if the moment when Emily thinks they're going to crash can be a little more intense for her viscerally. Right now, I don't believe she truly thinks they will crash. She is too analytical about it all when in that moment there would be shorter sentences and more physical reactions to the fear. For example "We float through the air as the pine trees draw near. Silently falling." That sounds almost peaceful, when inside she must be hot with adrenaline and scared out of her mind, right? Poor Emily, dying in a plane crash with Skylar of all people! Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to seeing Skylar's growth and their inevitable friendship, or at the very least, understanding for each other. I'm a little thrown off by Emily being so upset with Dad that she went from idolizing him to having her stomach turn whenever he's around. Is that just because he got remarried? When I first read that I was thinking he must have done something truly awful and maybe even criminal. But he remarried? I get that Emily might be upset about that, but her reaction seems out of proportion. If she idolized him, he must have been worship-worthy, right? So what happened? Wouldn't a guy like that with a relationship like that with his daughter have handled the whole remarriage thing in a sensitive way? How long ago has Mom died? Did Dad have an affair with the new stepmom while Mom was alive? That might explain Emily's strong reaction. I guess I want to know a tiny bit more to understand so I'm not bumped out of the story wondering about that when I think you'd rather have me wonder about how Emily and Skylar will get along and how Emily and Dad will mend their relationship. I would definitely keep turning pages to read more about this exciting adventure as well as the complicated relationships. Great job! Brenda
  7. You're welcome, Sheree! I think hearing that Sarah ended up barren due to the miscarriage is important information. I also think readers will be puzzled about how you can have a happy marriage while obsessing about an old lover at the same time. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it sure is different, and you'll want to help the reader to understand more about her marriage. Question to throw out there... Does Sarah have to be married? Good luck! Brenda
  8. Hi Sheree, I love the details of the boat life. It's clear you know what you're writing about, and I was able to feel like I was right there with Sarah. But I must admit, I'm much more interested in Sarah's relationship with her husband and eventually Marshall than I am with the boat (or the seagull or the window breaking). If this is a story about running into an old lover, I'd love to be immersed in her love life right away. I'm not saying we have to meet Marshall on page 1 (but that is an option). Rather, I'd like to see what is going on in her marriage that primes her for this old lover to matter to her. If she has a happy marriage, she'd see Marshall and be like, Oh hey! So good to see you! But that won't be her reaction. She's going to start obsessing about him. Why? There must be something missing or lacking in her current relationship. Let's see that. Also, I wonder if you could increase the stakes by making the pregnancy she had with Marshall a full term pregnancy. Maybe she raised the child herself. Maybe she put the child up for adoption. Or maybe she even had an abortion. Any of those choices seem to be higher stakes than having a miscarriage. Obviously, a miscarriage is a tragedy, I'm not diminishing that. But is it a secret that you'd keep forever and then want to reveal upon seeing the father? Has Sarah had kids? I'd love to know more about that, too. And in looking at how you're writing this in four parts, I also wonder if it could be stronger if you tell the story of running into Marshall and how that impacts her life and her marriage, while weaving in the backstory throughout, rather than doing it in huge chunks? You have rich material to work with. A marriage, a former lover, a secret. And a great setting. Can't wait to see what you do with it all! Brenda
  9. This is the opening scene, introducing the protagonist and antagonist, setting, tone, and foreshadowing the primary conflict: Dear Faithy, This is how I remember it. Dad and I were snuggled under a chenille throw on the black leather sofa with our two cats curled around us. The Sopranos was on TV, and you and your brothers were upstairs in bed. It was the spring of 2004, and you and Jacob were in third grade, Sammy was in second. People used to call you Irish triplets because I’d given birth to all three of you in nineteen months, but we weren’t Irish, or Catholic, or Orthodox Jews. Dad and I were simply a couple who’d dealt with infertility and then a surprise. Parenting three kids so close together was exhausting, but we loved it. We were all in. We’d give you kids everything we could, and by the time we were 51, you’d be out of college, and we’d still be young enough to enjoy the next phase of life as a couple. That was the plan, anyway. Right then though, we were like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the mountain, only to have it roll back down again. We relished the few relaxing moments at the end of our days. But as we escaped into a world of high drama on TV, we heard footsteps on the stairs. Yours. Coming down after bedtime and telling us you couldn’t fall asleep was practically a nightly ritual, and we all knew our roles. You’d say, “I can’t sleep.” Dad would make a dad joke, like, “You’ll never fall asleep if you’re not in bed.” Then I’d walk you back upstairs, tuck you in again, and soothe whatever worry was bothering you. “Don’t forget to check on me before you go to sleep,” you’d say as I left the room and headed back to Dad. That night, however, the regular script got tossed. You went directly to the kitchen and grabbed a paring knife from the block on the counter. The kitchen was open to the family room, where Dad and I were sitting. Dad paused the TV. You walked in front of us and toyed with the knife against your left palm. Tony Soprano was frozen on the big screen behind you, a forkful of pasta halfway to his mouth. He looked as dumbfounded as I felt. What exactly were you doing? “I’m a terrible person,” you said, and you squeezed the handle of the knife. My whole body tensed. Your teacher had called that afternoon to tell me that you and your friends had played a trick on the new girl in your class. You’d all secretly assigned her a number: 1104. Then you’d convinced everyone in your class, including the new girl herself, to say mean things about the number. Eleven-oh-four is ugly. Eleven-oh-four is stupid. I hate eleven-oh-four. I wished I were a mom who’d hear this story from a teacher and think, Impossible! My daughter would never do such a thing! But when Mrs. Castro told me what happened, I believed her. My dream had been to raise children who’d be strong and kind, children who’d be brave enough to step in when they saw bullying or cruelty. I never imagined one of my own kids would be the perpetrator. But sometimes it felt like nothing Dad and I said or did mattered. Like you and your brothers were who you were from birth, and all we could do was watch you become more of yourselves – for good or for bad. I didn’t ask Mrs. Castro who the ringleader had been. Maybe it had been you, or maybe you’d simply gone along with the group. Either way, it was wrong. I was sad for the new girl, angry at you, and embarrassed for myself. I could feel Mrs. Castro judging me as a bad mother. She didn’t have kids yet, and I’m sure she thought her future children would never behave in such an atrocious manner. Oh, hypothetical children, always so well behaved. Mrs. Castro told me you’d already written an apology letter, but I felt there had to be a consequence at home, too. So I’d grounded you and taken away your computer privileges for the day. But now, as you stood in front of Dad and me threatening to hurt yourself with a knife, I knew something had gone very wrong. I pictured you in your bed, going over the day’s events, having them grow into a dark, menacing cloud in your mind. I was glad you felt bad about your behavior, but shouldn’t you have come downstairs and cried in our arms? Promised you’d never do something like that again? We were the kind of parents who would have allowed you to start fresh. Instead, you wanted to harm yourself with a knife. “You’re not a terrible person,” I said. “You did something that wasn’t kind or respectful, and it’s normal to feel bad about that. But you’re not a terrible person.” You scratched the point of the blade across your palm, not hard enough to do anything, but still. “Faithy, why don’t you put down that knife.” Dad sounded frustrated more than anything. I knew in that moment he just wanted to relax and watch The Sopranos with me. As a corporate businessman, he worked hard all day. With the three of you kids so close together, it often felt like we were sprinting through parenthood, careening around blind curves, dodging debris. We were exhausted. Dad wanted drama on TV, not in real life. And you had a way of pushing every limit and wearing us out. “I like it,” you said. “Faith,” I said firmly. “Give me the knife.” I held out my hand, but I did not get off the sofa. You were small and wiry but also strong and unpredictable. The last thing I wanted was to get into a physical battle with you. You looked at me with eyes that were both fierce and desperate. You didn’t move. I softened my tone. “Faith,” I began again, “please give me the knife.” You stood there, staring at us. You were just a little girl. You wore tie-dyed pajamas with chicks on them. Your long brown hair was still damp from the shower. Your chest rose up and down as you breathed, and I found myself matching you, breath for breath. You weren’t really going to hurt yourself, were you? “Faithy,” I said, keeping my voice soft. “Do you want to maybe see a therapist?” Your shoulders relaxed and you nodded. “What took you so long?” you asked, wording the question like an accusation. You took three steps toward us, handed me the knife, and fell into our arms.
  10. 1. Story Statement: A once-confident mom must navigate a mental health maze, bash stigmas, let go of judgments, and embrace a radical love and acceptance to help her daughter make it out of high school alive. Or, more simply: A mom must help her mentally ill daughter make it out of high school alive. 2. Antagonist: Faith is nine when the story starts and seventeen when it ends. She excels in school, sports, music, and friendships. Her smile lights the room. She charms every human and animal she meets. She also sends naked pictures of herself to anyone who asks, slices up her arm to dull her emotional pain, and fights the urge to commit suicide. Faith has depression, anxiety, and oppositional defiant disorder. Eventually she is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She sucks up all the oxygen in the room. She lashes out, lies, and blames. She's boy crazy until she comes out as bi and then gay. She's outspoken and passionate, argumentative and loving. A risk-taker and leader. She has a twin brother who broke her heart in kindergarten when they were separated at school. She wants more than anything for them to be close, but he isn't interested in such an intense relationship. Her younger brother is sweet and friendly, and Faith wishes she could be more like him. She has a mom and dad who love her but will not stop parenting her. She wishes they would back off and let her hit rock bottom where she believes she belongs. 3. Title: Breath for Breath (I've thought about titles playing on the name Faith, but everything sounds too religious, which is a big misdirection.) 4. Genre/Comps: Breath for Breath is upmarket memoir. Comps include: Beautiful Boy by David Sheff, 2008, Houghton Mifflin. This is an excellent comp because it's about a parent dealing with a teen's problem. Breath for Breath is from a mom's perspective, not a dad's. It's about a daughter, not a son. And it's about mental illness, not drug addiction. The only problem with this comp is that it's so old. But it's still a big seller, and it was turned into a major motion picture, so maybe that's okay? There I Am by Ruthie Lindsey, Gallery Books 2020. Although this memoir has nothing to do with mental illness, it's about optimism, healing, and the love of family, which are also themes in Breath for Breath. It's current and written by a debut, non-celebrity author. It has 459 reviews on Amazon and reached #47 on the ABA IndieBound hardcover non-fiction list. One thing Lindsey has that I don't is a big social media following. However, I do have a publishing history. Good Morning, Monster by Catherine Gildiner, St. Marten's Press 2020. A therapist shares five heroic stories of emotional recovery. 776 reviews on Amazon. Gildiner is an author and psychologist. 5. Hook Line: After the heartache of infertility, a mom gives birth only to discover she's at a complete loss parenting her out-of-control daughter. She must navigate a mental health maze, bash stigmas, and let go of judgment to help her daughter make it out of high school alive. (Core wound is feeling like she's not a good mom.) 6. Inner Conflict Mom worries she's not a good mom. This plays out throughout the story as everything Mom tries to do to help Faith isn't effective. One scenario in particular where this shows up is when mental health professionals suggest 14-year-old Faith be sent away to a wilderness program and therapeutic boarding school. Having a kid who needs to be sent away feels like getting a failing grade in motherhood to Mom. She vacillates between wanting to send Faith away to get the help the professionals say she needs vs. worrying about being a helicopter mom and swooping in too soon. She wonders if Faith is simply a tough teen or truly mentally ill. She is afraid to make a decision because of the fear of making the wrong move. She doesn't trust that she's a good enough mom who can make good enough decisions. Secondary Conflict Mom is also in conflict with the other moms in her community, and that brings up wounds from her middle school days when the popular girls wanted nothing to do with her. These moms have their own drama and social maneuvering. Mom is on the outskirts of their group, and as Faith's behavior becomes more troublesome, the other moms judge and distance themselves from Mom and Faith. There are several scenes where this is apparent. For example, Faith and her friends ditch a friend at the mall and lie to Mom about it when she picks the girls up. Later that night, the truth comes out that the girl was left alone at the mall, and the parents of that girl are furious with Mom for being foolish enough to be duped by the girls. Mom is embarrassed that she looks bad to these parents and also angry at Faith for lying to her. She's also sad and somewhat bitter that the other parents were all out at a fun event without her while she was doing the driving. And she's ashamed of herself, leading her to believe again that she's not a good mom. 7. Setting The story takes place from 2004-2013 in Deerfield, Illinois, a tony suburb of Chicago where people are mostly white, mostly Jewish, and mostly upper or upper-middle class. Faith is friends with a group called The Sweet Sixteen, sixteen beautiful, powerful, socially smart, wounded girls. Their moms are also a force to be reckoned with in the school and community. This homogenous community turns out to be just about the worst place Faith could be raised. If you look like everyone else on the surface, it's much harder to be yourself if that self is different from the rest. Another aspect of the setting is the family unit. Mom had three kids in 19 months. She's a children's book author whose characters make sense to her, but as hard as she tries, she cannot make sense of Faith. Her husband travels a lot for work, and she is generally overwhelmed with taking care of the three kids, two cats, one house, and a writing career. 8. Additional note based on the readings about memoirs: Lessons learned that I hope readers will get from this memoir: Our job as parents is not to shape our children into the people we want them to be. Instead, it's to discover who they are and love and accept them so completely that they have the power to shape themselves. There's no such thing as an A- mom. If you are doing the job with love and good intention, you pass. You are good enough. That's all you have to be. Mental illness in teens can look like phases. It can be confusing. There is a stigma surrounding mental illness that makes it hard to accept it in your child. You must work against that. The most important thing you can do is validate and empathize with your child's feelings, even if you strongly disagree with their behaviors. Life is long. Childhood is long. The work you're doing as a parent might not seem effective in the moment, but keep doing the best you can and play the long game. You're doing great.
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