About Jeri Fink
Dr. Jeri Fink is an author, 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.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Finding my voice. It sounds simple, but the process is really quite complicated. A writer's voice is about storytelling - conversing with readers as if we're sitting together over a cup of steaming latte. First, I have to know what my characters need to say. As a Family Therapist, I'm used to writing psychological reports that include everything from infant behaviors to adult mental status. I do the same for my characters. Most of the details don't appear directly in the story - only the essence of how she or he feels and behaves. "My voice" also includes how I will structure a book to create the greatest impact. In Trees Cry For Rain, I wanted to juxtapose two time periods - the present and the 15th century. The reader needed to feel that time was flexible, a living construct. I chose to experiment with subtle alterations in structure. For example, everything in the past is written in first person, present tense. That gives a sense of urgency - the stories feel like they're happening now. Everything in the present is written in third person, past tense - the traditional structure. Writing the past as if it was happening now and the present as if it had already happened, became my voice - my way to demonstrate that time was fluid and my 15th century characters could easily show up in midtown Manhattan.
Did you learn anything from writing your book 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. Most of all, it taught me about time. Time shifted into its own unique dance. I met real people who told me stories that sounded like yesterday, but took place five hundred years ago. I also met real 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. "Time" became my favorite character.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Never stop reading, writing, learning, thinking and doing. It's all part of the final book. Don't be afraid to follow your instincts. If there's a pause in the narration then it's time to reflect, review what's written and visualize where it's headed. Writing is passion, craft and hard work. You have to really love it to create that special book.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Every writer is a reader. We're in that boat together. The reader should have the choice of how "deep" they want to go in scrutinizing the significance of a book. I always hated those teachers who focused on obscure meanings in literature that often eluded me. Sometimes, it is what it is. Readers and writers should be partners in a shared experience. Consequently, I wrote Trees Cry For Rain to be a "good read." If a reader wants, there are many built-in layers of symbols and metaphor to think about. If not, you don't need the skills of a Freudian analyst to enjoy the story.
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
Recently, I read an interview of a best-selling author. He mentioned that he hated research. I froze. How can a writer hate research? It's the heart and soul of writing - understanding what surrounds the story. When I'm working on a book, I read everything - fiction and nonfiction - as part of my research. I watch videos, films, documentaries, and pour over related photos, maps, and diagrams. I do interviews, attend lectures, explore museums - anything that gives me a better sense of the story's world. My research involves travel - I went to Spain, Portugal, Israel, New Mexico, Arizona, and New York to directly experience my character's environment. In Ibiza, Spain, I peered into the underground tunnel that the Jews used to reach their secret synagogue built beneath the convent of San Christobal. I leaned into the darkness and heard the whoosh of robes and whispers of determined voices, as they risked their lives for their beliefs. In Girona, a medieval town north of Barcelona, I touched the five hundred year old walls and could feel the power of the people who once lived in the Juderia (Jewish section). Reading the history, being in the environment, studying the psychology and visualizing human nature in the context of my story, made the book more real to me than people on the street.
What books/authors have influenced your writing?
There are so many good books and authors - I want to read everything and everyone. Although I prefer some genres, like historical fiction and psychological thrillers, I try anything. Some of my favorite modern classics are by Steinbeck, Hemingway, Faulkner, Uris and Michener. Mark Twain was one of my earliest muses. As a teenager, I cried with Anne Frank and Pearl S. Buck, and read every word Kurt Vonnegut and Tolkien wrote. I'm a loyal J.K. Rowling fan! These days, I make sure to read books written by some of my favorite contemporary authors like Greg Iles, Naomi Regan, Jodi Picault, Harlan Coben, Michael Crichton, Nelson DeMille . . . the list goes on, as long as authors are writing good books. My favorite journalist is Marge Mendel. Her work is awesome!
What genre do you consider your book?
Do you ever experience writer's block?
I don't experience writer's block. I am my writing, and my writing is me. I think therefore I am. They can't be separated. There are times when I need to reflect - to mull over a character or restructure a plot, but that's still writing. There are times when I simply need to live - integrate what I see beyond my laptop. But that's writing, too. Putting words on a paper or screen is only one part of the process.
Do you write an outline before every book you write?
Yes and no. When I write nonfiction, I always begin with a tight outline. Fiction is different. My characters tell me their stories - I generate a loose outline after I know the basic plot. Since I incorporate many symbols and metaphors, I sketch out "hidden connections" to keep track of where I'm going. Ironically, my most detailed outlines are after the book is written, when I'm checking timelines, accuracy, consistency and plot strength. I guess that makes sense since my editing and rewriting take much longer than the original draft.
Have you ever hated something you wrote?
I'm an obsessive editor/rewriter. I review a manuscript dozens of times before I will show it to anyone. The next step is to have at least six "readers" evaluate it and suggest changes. That generally leads to long discussions and analyses. Since my readers come from very different states and lifestyles, I feel I get a good cross-section of opinions. Now - to answer your question. When I hate it completely, when I can't read another word, then I know it's ready to go. It's like having a child, whom you love dearly but are thrilled when he or she leaves for college!
What is your favourite theme/genre to write about?
I remember one day, as a teenager, sitting on a New York City bus and watching people across the aisle. I was busily devising wild stories about the faces - where they were going, why and what they were running from. Suddenly someone saw me and smiled. I froze. Could that person jump into my head and know what I was thinking? I was both terrified and excited about the idea. My favorite theme is the same - the process of leaping inside people's heads to wander through the cobwebs and figure out what going on.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in Bayside, Queens, one of the "outer" boroughs of New York City. When most kids my age were riding bicycles and playing with dolls, I was taking trips to Manhattan, making up stories about people on the buses and subways. I lived all of my adult life a few miles further east of Manhattan, on Long Island. I'm not a very good suburbanite - I hop the Long Island Railroad to Manhattan every chance I get.
My head is constantly filled with characters and stories. I never know who or what is going to appear and demand entrance into my book. It's magical, mysterious, and sometimes, exhausting. When I want to move outside myself, I go to beautiful places like Arizona and Colorado to "blend" into the timelessness of the environment. Those are my most peaceful moments. At the same time, when I'm around people with stories of their own, I'm so drawn in that I experience it like a movie in my head. I can feel their joy and their angst. One of my favorite jaunts is to wander around Manhattan and take in the frenetic energy of the city and the people. It's intoxicating.
What do you do when you are not writing?
Travel. I can't get enough of it! My goal is to visit all seven continents on the planet. Right now, I'm only missing one - Australia. I've traveled all over the U.S. and the world. My favorite places are Arizona, Manhattan, Israel and Antarctica. I recently discovered expedition travel (see the articles on my website or at scribd.com), and can't get enough of it. I've been on two expeditions - Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands, which are literally, worlds apart. I'm now planning my next expedition. Any suggestions?
Do you have a day job as well?
I was a Family Therapist for many years. I loved my work! Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time for my patients and my characters. Now I write full time.