Pearl Wolfe and Evelyn Anderton ~
We are co-authors Pearl Wolfe and Evelyn Anderton, and our debut novel Walk Out the Door, has just been published by Atmosphere Press. We each have over two decades of experience with issues related to violence against women and we both grew up in homes where domestic violence and child abuse were the norm, bringing an intimate perspective to our writing. We’d like to share a unique writing craft of co-authoring a book with WordMothers readers.
We successfully completed our novel over a three-year period. Looking back on the process, we found it challenging, satisfying, and at times hilarious. It helped that the theme of Walk Out the Door was both personal and professional. It was a profound experience to write as two friends and former colleagues, synthesizing our life narratives in a fictional story.
Certain workplaces create the potential for lifelong friendships. While working at Womenspace, the program for battered women and their children in Eugene, Oregon, we developed a strong bond. We spoke together and met women in public places to assess them for shelter. We wrote numerous grants together, from supporting the ongoing shelter program to adding transitional housing for women who successfully moved on. We’d each write parts of the grant proposals separately and meet to read aloud our contributions while the person at the computer entered the revisions until we were both pleased with the result. Even though we didn’t always agree about content and clarity, we could find common ground. This writing process brought in an impressive number of grant awards to support our work to end violence against women.
Once we both retired, we decided that we wanted to do something creative about domestic violence that we hadn’t done before. Co-authoring our novel became the vehicle. To help strengthen our skills as novice fiction writers, we took workshops from the local community college and from Wordcrafters, a local nonprofit.
When we learned that plots often went off in their own directions once you started writing, we decided to complete a general plot summary and outline. We guessed it would be an evolving document that would go through numerous changes over the course of writing the book. We allowed ourselves that flexibility and at one point deleted entire chapters and then had to re-write prior sections of the book. We even changed the order of the chapters to make it easier to follow.
We were daring co-authors, learning our craft as we wrote draft after draft of our novel. Quite a juggling act! We knew countless stories of women who had experienced domestic violence along with incidents we witnessed during our childhood. Both gave us a solid foundation to write believable scenes. We drew from the truths we had seen to create a believable fiction story.
Our process was to write alternate chapters and meet twice weekly to read each chapter aloud, in the spirit of our duo grant writing style. We would “talk edit” as we read each other’s chapters. We were both serious about our subject and blended it with humor to lighten our editing sessions. We referred to the thesaurus as our joke box, using it to diversify our language and avoid repetitious words and overuse of professional jargon. We shared a google doc so in between our in-person novel sessions, we could edit each other’s work in a colored font. Then, each author would accept or reject the suggested edits.
We quickly discovered how different writing fiction was from writing non-fiction. Vivid descriptions and realistic, natural-sounding dialogue were among our greatest challenges. Fiction writing is clearly not like grant writing.
The question was how to blend our different personalities and fiction writing styles. Evelyn advised Pearl to shorten her narratives and not to overexplain. Pearl convinced Evelyn to enrich her descriptions by offering a sensitive eye to describe a place or person more fully. An early reader told us she could tell who had written each chapter, so we needed to work hard to blend our voices. Not an easy task!
In writing fiction, we learned from each other, and both improved our craft over time. We decided not to use our novel as a preaching pulpit about domestic violence. Yet we wanted to subtly educate our readers. Our mantra became “show it, don’t tell it.” Rather than saying that a male abuser is charming and charismatic, we show him acting in that fashion so it’s clear why the woman is drawn to him and falls in love with him. Dialogue is usually the best way to show the reality of how domestic violence relationships begin and continue. We don’t tell the reader. We show the reader.
One of our goals in writing Walk Out the Door was to show the dynamics in abusive relationships and help readers understand why abused women struggle to leave and how abusers use the non-violent, honeymoon periods to offer hope that they will change.
Once we had written and edited enough of the book and had a solid manuscript, we formed an internal review team of experts to give us feedback. They examined the overall novel, the characters, the style, and pointed out strengths and weaknesses. They also questioned some of our assumptions and suggested other perspectives. We accepted the suggestions that made sense to us. Their feedback on ways to make the book more readable and accessible to any reader were invaluable. Our team consisted of an Edgar Award-winning author and counselor, and two former shelter staff, one who later became a therapist, counseling both batterers and abused women. The third member completed her dissertation on domestic violence.
Four more drafts and our novel was ready to go out into the world with the help of our publisher, Atmosphere Press. We hope to educate people about domestic violence through our story. We offer a reading guide with questions for book groups and support groups in domestic violence programs. As we say at the end of our novel: We credit the women and children of Womenspace for teaching us the truth about domestic violence. We share their struggle for survival through this novel.
— Evelyn Anderton and Pearl Wolfe
Co-authors Pearl Wolfe and Evelyn Anderton each have over two decades of experience with issues related to violence against women. Both grew up in homes where domestic violence and child abuse were the norm, bringing an intimate perspective to their writing. They are recipients of the City of Eugene “Human Rights Recognition Award” for their dedication to the empowerment of women through their work.
For more information, visit www.pearlwolfe.com. You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram.
Walk Out the Door is currently for sale at Amazon. You can also purchase it at Barnes & Noble, and other on-line retailers.