Friday, July 20, 2012

Author Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: Learning From Fictional Characters

It’s a pleasure to be participating in WOW's The Divorce Girl Blog Tour with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg today.

Here’s a brief synopsis of THE DIVORCE GIRL:
Meet Deborah Shapiro, a New Jersey teenage photographer whose parents' outrageous divorce lands her in the biggest flea market in the free world, a Greek diner with immigration issues, a New York City taxi company, a radical suburban synagogue, a hippie-owned boutique, and bowling alleys, beaches and bagel shops. 

As her home explodes apart, a first love, a series of almost-mothers, and a comical collection of eccentric mentors show Deborah how to make art out of life, and life from the wreckage of a broken home. 

This debut novel of Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg travels through wild loss, untended grief and bad behavior with humor and imagination. Reminiscent of the works of Wally Lamb, Stephanie Kallos, and Kaye Gibbons, this coming of age story illuminates how a daring heart can turn a broken girl into a woman strong enough to craft a life of art, soul and beauty.

A women’s fiction novel, THE DIVORCE GIRL will also appeal to the YA audience who may identify with Deborah and her attempts to create her own world as her parents' world is falling to pieces. However, there is some violence and sexual scenes so it may not be for the tween market. 

The delightful Caryn joins us now to tell "What I Learned from My Fictional Characters." 

highresDivorceGirlfrontcoverWe start out writing a story with anything between a hunch and an outline, but then -- if we're lucky -- there comes a time when the fictional characters take the wheel and start steering where the novel goes. 

Alice Walker, in THE COLOR PURPLE, actually thanks her characters for coming and directing that novel. In writing THE DIVORCE GIRL, I feel the same way although some of my characters started taking charge right away while others had to be nudged, begged and cajoled to take charge and reveal themselves.

Because the characters evolved beyond what I could have thought up as the composite description of each, the characters tended to surprise me in the process of writing, then revising, revising, revising and further revising the novel. One of the wild joys of writing fiction is that exactly: you get to see life from behind someone else's eyes. 

Here's some of what I learned from my characters:
*  Just because a person is quiet doesn't mean she's shy or depressed. As someone overly-expressive, I needed to learn this, and I did from watching Deborah hold back in social settings often as she tried to protect herself, sort out her responses, or simply, at times, stay awake.
*  Sometimes when a person acts like a total jerk, it's because he can't read the social situation he's immersed in, and striking out is the only way he can feel like he has some skin on him.
*  Acid-washed denim was doomed to fail from the get-go although it would become popular for a number of years.
*  Sex education generally freaks out teenagers, in great part because they're sitting together, trying not to look reactive, in the same room together.*  The perfume on a grandmother's old mink wrap or a mother's sweater can convey more pure emotion and even love than thousands of words.
*  Just telling someone your story -- especially in letters -- can melt a hardened heart, but to do so takes courage and giving up of any expectations of success.
*  Growing up in Greece with a Turkish name would be hell for any woman.
*  Hitchhiking works only if you act like the last thing you need is a ride.
*  Men with ponytails will surprise you.
*  You never know when a famous saxophonist will pick up your tab at a local cafe or diner.
*  Surviving something traumatic often means you carry some small piece of the trauma in your soul your whole life, but you can use that pain to open your heart wider and love deeper.
*  Everyone has a story that will blow your mind, especially the ones who seem the least likely to have lived an interesting life.

Caryn, thanks for guest blogging today. It’s fun finding out what you’ve learned from your characters. I especially like the last tidbit. Sometimes we miss out on great stories because we think these people have lead boring lives without ever giving them a chance.

Now let me share a bit about Caryn. She is the Poet Laureate of Kansas, and the author of 14 books, including a forthcoming non-fiction book, Needle in the Bone: How a Holocaust Survivor and Polish Resistance Fighter Beat the Odds and Found Each Other (Potomac Books); The Sky Begins At Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community & Coming Home to the Body (Ice Cube Books); the anthologies An Endless Skyway: Poetry from the State Poets Laureate (co-editor, Ice Cube Books) and Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems (editor, Woodley Press); and four collections of poetry. 

Founder of Transformative Language Arts – a master's program in social and personal transformation through the written, spoken and sung word – at Goddard College where she teaches, Caryn also leads writing workshops widely. With singer Kelley Hunt, she co-writes songs, offers collaborative performances, and leads writing and singing Brave Voice retreats.

For more on Caryn and her writing, visit her website at
If we’ve sparked your interest in THE DIVORCE GIRL here, be sure to visit CMash Loves to Read
who is hosting a giveaway for the book. If you’re on Twitter and what to read more, the hashtag is #DivGrl. Thanks so much for stopping by today and visiting.


  1. What an interesting book! So many broken homes these days and sometimes we forget how it affects the children--regardless of their age.

    #2 is spot on. I had a good chuckle over your list!


  2. Sounds like a great book! And it was interesting hearing what you learned from your characters. :) Thanks for the guest post.

  3. Caryn, thanks again for sharing what your characters have taught you. I agree with Sia, we do tend to forget that children of all ages are touched when there is a divorce. Wishing you much success.

    Sia, thanks for stopping by.

  4. Elizabeth, thanks for stopping by.

  5. Mason - What an interesting perspective for a novel! Thanks for introducing us to Caryn and The Divorce Girl. I never really thought about how much we can learn from the fictional characters we write but it's so true that we can...

  6. Characters do tend to take over a book when you're least expecting it.
    I'll hop over to Caryn's site.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.