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Interview: Jeri Fink, author of Trees Cry For Rain

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Not only is Dr. Jeri Fink an author, she is a family therapist and journalist with over 19 books and hundreds of articles to her name. She writes adult and children’s fiction and nonfiction, and has appeared on television, radio, book events, seminars, workshops, and the internet. Dr. Fink’s work has been praised by community leaders, educators, reviewers, and critics around the country.

To find out more about Dr. Fink http://www.drjerifink.com

When did you first know you could be a writer?

I was eight years old and it was very late — long past my bedtime. Instead of sleeping, I aimed a flashlight on my notebook so I could write a new story. Then it hit me.

I was put on this planet to write.

I’ve done a lot of things since that moment. But I always knew what I was meant to do. That’s never changed. I’m here to write.

What inspires you to write and why?

Life is so rich with beauty, excitement and contradiction. My characters and stories live within me, emerging when the time is right. My soul is totally integrated with writing. It’s like breathing — I don’t need inspiration. The words are always there.

What genre are you most comfortable writing?

I always prided myself on my ability to write anything — from journalism and copywriting to fiction. Give me a format and I’ll put it into words. When I was a child, I used to watch people on the subway and invent stories about their lives. It was so much fun!

The question, then, is not what I’m most comfortable writing, but what I enjoy the most.

The biggest challenge — the type of writing where I have to dig deep into my soul — is adult fiction. I live my characters and stories; in many ways they are more real to me than the people in the street. I have to work hard to make sense of their experiences, understand their environments and, of course, know their historical context. Sometimes, I meet myself in their stories and, often, it’s not pretty. But it’s what I do and who I am!

What inspired you to write your first book?

I don’t know which was my first book. Was it the silly novel I wrote about my childhood? The first children’s book? The serious tome about managed care? If I can’t identify my “first book” then it’s even more difficult to talk about a specific inspiration.

Who or what influenced your writing once you began?

In my “other life” I am a family therapist. After all these years, I’m still amazed by human behavior. People are crazy, loving, nurturing, and evil. And that’s only a few words. Perhaps my greatest ongoing influence is the world around me – the things I see, live and hear — and the stories that seem to emerge from within.

Who or what influenced your writing over the years?

Three things — reading, writing, and experiencing life! They were all critical to my development as a writer. I plan on continuing them for as long as I live – and maybe beyond.

What made you want to be a writer?

I never wanted to be a writer — I was born one. It’s who I am.

What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general?

For me, the biggest challenge in writing is the business. I can easily organize three hundred pages into logical parts, but setting up a marketing plan terrifies me. Contracts, publicity, promotion, and scheduling are daunting. While I store endless historical facts and recall them when needed, I can’t keep track of who owns which rights!

Did writing this book teach you anything and what was it?

I learn from everything I write, whether 100 or 100,000 words. I have even learned from this interview! Trees Cry For Rain taught me many things about history and the human need to resolve injustice. But most of all, it taught me about time. Suddenly, time shifted from a concrete stable concept to a flexible, moving construct with its own unique dance. I met people who told me stories that sounded like yesterday, but took place five hundred years ago. I also met people who told me stories that sounded like five hundred years ago, but took place yesterday. Time can be slippery and elusive, or solid and secure. In many ways, “time” became my favorite character.

Do you intend to make writing a career?

Writing is more than a career — it’s my soul. I can’t separate myself from my work.

Have you developed a specific writing style?

It took a lot of experimenting, rewriting, and thought to find my voice in Trees Cry For Rain. The structure is not traditional, which is always risky in historical fiction. I move between the past and present, encouraging the reader to make the connections. Of course, at the end everything is brought together. I hate books that leave readers without answers or endings!

I used some very subtle techniques to empower my writing. For example, everything in the past is written in present tense; everything in the present is written in past tense. The goal was to give the past an immediacy — taking the reader into the moment. Using first person enhanced that concept. Predictably, it’s very difficult to write first person, present tense about events that happened five hundred years ago. I had to do a lot of editing and, sometimes, had to read out loud to make sure it was grammatically correct. It was very important that the people living in the present fell into a more standard third person, past tense structure. These challenges enabled me to manipulate time through plot, characters and structure.

What is your greatest strength as a writer?

My greatest strength — and blessing — is always knowing what I was meant to do. Whether it was short stories, copywriting, journalism, books for children, or Trees Cry For Rain, there was never any doubt. I was born to write.

Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?

I don’t experience writer’s block. I am my writing, and my writing is me. They can’t be separated. There are times when I need to think — to mull over a character, or restructure a plot, but that’s still writing. There are times when I simply need to experience the world, and integrate it into my work. But that’s writing, too. Putting words on a paper or screen is only one part of the process.

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