Today at Edgewise I am happy to have as my guest a good friend and fellow writer, Carla Stewart. Her second book, Broken Wings has just hit the streets to great reviews. Carla’s debut novel, Chasing Lilacs, was stunning. Truly. When I read it I knew she was on her way to a great career in fiction. I encourage you to read them both! You won’t be disappointed. And I encourage you to read to the end of this blog post.
Because you don’t be disappointed there, either.
Broken Wings centers around two women. Mitzi Steiner is the second half of a singing duo that captured America’s heart for more than two decades. But now Mitzi’s beloved husband is disappearing into the nether world of Alzheimers, leaving Mitzi alone and pondering. On the other side of Tulsa, Brooke Woodson has met the outwardly perfect man — a handsome lawyer with sights on becoming Tulsa’s next District Attorney. But his drive for success comes with a nasty side effect. He channels all his anger over his own disappointments onto Brooke. Onto her heart and onto her body. An accident lands Brooke in the hospital where Mitzi volunteers, and the two women develop an unlikely friendship. With Mitzi’s kindness and insights, Brooke learns how to pick up the broken pieces of her life.
So let’s get right to the heart of Broken Wings.
Edgewise: Where did this story spring from?
I loved this story and thought of the characters from time to time. It was almost like they were waiting backstage for their cue to make an entrance. It kept coming back to me that the oldest of those three orphans surely had a story to tell. Then one day I read a newspaper article about the possible renovation of Tulsa’s Big Ten Ballroom, a jazz hall in the forties and fifties. I knew at once my little orphan had grown up to become a jazz singer. She would be quite elderly now, of course, but perhaps she needed to tell her story. Once I had a starting place and Mitzi in mind, the plotting and story took off from there.
Edgewise: Who are you most like in the story, Mitzi or Brooke? Carla: Definitely Mitzi who made mistakes, sometimes foolish ones, but kept pushing forward. Being rooted in faith from an early age gave Mitzi a compass for her life, and I’ve had the same. Even when I veer from the path, God is always on the shoulder of the road guiding me back.
I do have a bit of Brooke in me—striving to please people and afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing.
Edgewise: What did you learn about yourself in writing Broken Wings?
Carla: That I’m not always the kind of friend I would like to be. I know there are those who might have welcomed a meal when I was wrapped up in edits or marketing. I have a neighbor who I used to have coffee with regularly, and now that writing demands more of my time, we go out only once in a while. I’ve been examining some of the restraints that writing has put on my relationships and resetting priorities. Words shouldn’t take precedence over people.
Edgewise: Did you learn anything new about God?
Carla: I came to this story with only a glimpse of how I could make the scenes from the past intersect with the contemporary ones. And even as I wrote each new section, I felt the hand of God guiding my fingers, giving me just the right words and characters to tell this story, not only of friendship, but also grace. His grace became new to me all over again, and I was reminded that He is sufficient in all things.
Edgewise: What was it like doing research for this one?
Carla: I visited the Jazz Depot in Tulsa which is home to the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. I attended concerts there and read articles and books about the rich jazz culture that is part of Tulsa’s heritage. Very fun! I already had a folder of material on Alzheimer’s so I reviewed it, researched current articles, and relied on my past experience as a nurse to bring the character to life. The Alzheimer’s research became very personal when my mother-in-law was diagnosed with mid-stage Alzheimer’s less than a month after Broken Wings was contracted. She’s a beautiful lady, and it’s been sad to see her spiral deeper into the tangles of this dreadful disease.
But the most challenging part of the research was learning about abuse which, thankfully, didn’t come from such a personal connection. I studied the personality types of victims and abusers and read a lot of personal stories and case studies. I also found the DSM-III (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) helpful in understanding the personality of an abuser.
Edgewise: I struggle to understand women who stay in abusive relationships because I just would not do it! Did you have to work through any preconceived notions of your own in the writing?
Carla: That’s a tough question because I came to the writing knowing it would be a struggle, but I also knew that, for me, abuse is intolerable. What I didn’t expect, though, was how angry it made me toward abusers, and I had a bit of anger, too, at the victim (Brooke in the story) for being so naive and willing to deny that the abuse was going on. While I knew that abuse is often passed down or learned, every individual can choose the behaviors they exhibit. Abusers are frequently respected and get along in many areas of life and choose those who they can intimidate. They can also choose to seek professional help. Sadly, many don’t.
It was not a comfortable story to write, but I don’t know that I’m excused from writing about hard things just because they make me squirm.
Edgewise: What do people need to know about domestic abuse that you discovered while writing this book?
Carla: It is much more common than I ever imagined, but there are usually warning signs that begin before actual abuse takes center stage—irrational behavior, disdain for authorities, getting hot tempered over trivial things, blaming others for their behavior, wanting to be in control of the relationship. The most alarming statistic that I read was that 40% of teens age 14-17 had either been abused or knew someone who had while in a dating relationship. If anything, I hope Broken Wings gives courage to women who are in abusive relationships, that they will realize that it’s not their fault nor their responsibility to stay with an abuser because he “needs” her. Victims, too, have a choice. Help is available, and I included resources at the end of the book as a place to start.
Edgewise: What’s next on the horizon for you?
Carla: Stardust (FaithWords) will be out early next summer. It’s lighter in tone, but still has some knotty issues. I’ve returned to a nostalgic time and found some real characters in the bayou country of East Texas. The year is 1952 at the height of the polio epidemic. Here’s a thumbnail sketch:
The Stardust Tourist Court beckons an East Texas widow to a new life, but when her dead husband’s mistress arrives and polio strikes, Georgia Peyton’s dreams are crippled.
Thanks for having me at the Edge, Susan!
Susan here. It’s been a pleasure to have Carla here! And now for a giveaway!! Post a comment here on the blog or on the Facebook post where this link appears and your name will be in the mix for a copy of Broken Wings! A random winner will be drawn at 9 a.m. Pacific on Friday, July 29!
Have a great week, everyone!