Tag Archives: Penny Lauer

Putting one’s life on the line . . . of ruled paper

Look Beyond the Mirror: A Creative and Simple Approach to Discover and Write the Story of Your Life, by Penny Lauer. Privately published via the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform . 156 pages. Trade paperback $15.00.

The seeds for this highly effective guide to memoir writing, at once practical and motivational, is a course the author gave at the Renaissance Academy (continuing education division) of Florida Gulf Coast University. She approaches the project as first of all an exercise in self-discovery, a process without which the finished product would be of little use to readers – even if they are primarily family and friends. 

Ms. Lauer breaks the seemingly overwhelming task into a series of manageable steps, explaining the necessity of each step and offering, with examples, a preferred way of managing that step. Anticipating the inexperience and insecurity of her reader-students, she reaches out in a sympathetic, supportive voice.

The author provides detailed advice on how to develop a flow of memories unblocked by self-censorship. Memoir writers have to seek the emotional truths in the experiences they recall, then explore and fashion those experiences for their readers. Penny Lauer insists on the necessity of pushing ahead, generating as much material as possible, before grouping the material and editing.

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The steps in the book organize the novice writer’s working life. Ms. Lauer insists on handwritten manuscripts (pardon the redundancy) on ruled paper in notebooks from which the pages can be removed and rearranged. And she explains how and why this method works. She also explains the need for a protected place for the writing to get done.

I agree that her system can work and produce exceptional results. I also feel that as people mature as writers, they need to explore a variety of processes. Changing your habits is a good way of waking up your perceptions and your writing. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 19, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 20 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Look Beyond the Mirror

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A hauntingly beautiful, courageous, yet painful composition

“Skipping Stones,” by Penny Lauer. CreateSpace. 384 pages. $15.00 trade paper, Kindle ebook $8.99

This is a painful book: painful because it is sensitive and courageous. In dealing with a young boy’s multiple crises –  the loss of his mother, the tormenting tenuousness of his long-absent father’s overtures, and the horrifying abusiveness of Uncle Steve, in whose care Josh has been placed – Penny Lauer has not spared the reader her main character’s pain. Nor has she glanced away from the pain suffered by Steve’s wife and children. And yet there is something hauntingly beautiful about this prose composition that fully engages our sympathy.  LauerFrontCover

We meet Josh shortly after he has lost his mother, Becky, who died in a bicycle accident for which Josh feels responsible. A troubled soul, Becky had determined years back that it would be best for Josh and for her if she divorced her husband, Sam. It’s not clear at first what made their relationship such a mismatch. Readers discover that Becky suffered from severe depression, and that coping with it sometimes took all of her strength. However, she was a courageous fighter and fully devoted to Josh. In fact, the bicycle mishap stemmed from her determination to overcome her fears and frailty.

Having anticipated the need to prepare for Josh’s future without her, Becky had documented her wish that Josh become part of her sister Jess’s family in the case of her death or incapacity. Little did she know the twisted home life that Jess and her children led under Steve’s reign of terror. Pride and fear mixed to keep Jess chained to a life of virtual slavery, of constant insults, and of harsh beatings. Her children had some understanding of what was happening, but no way to help her. Mother and children, in fact, had developed a conspiracy of silence. They lived a lie.

A flashback chapter summarizes the courtship and early years of marriage between Jess and Steve, revealing the step by step process by which the naïve and overwhelmed Jess became first an appendage to Steve’s egocentric manipulations and eventually a victim, her individuality submerged under the weight of his sadistic expectations.

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Josh walks into this domestic nightmare, unprepared and defenseless. But not altogether so. The quality of love he had received from his mother, the spirit of freedom that she had instilled in him, and her therapeutic reverence for nature that he had internalized gave Josh resilience and fortitude. Still, he is only a boy.

As Steve becomes more and more erratic and cruel, Sam becomes more and more committed to rebuilding his relationship with Josh. However, Steve’s overpowering jealousy cuts off communication between father and son.  Ultimately, Sam’s questioning of Jess about “what’s wrong” and Steve’s creation of a police state within the home (he cancels Jess’s credit cards and takes away her car keys) drive Jess closer and closer to taking a stand and tearing down the web of lies she has spun to hide the truth about how she and her children live under Steve’s tyranny. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the January 2, 2013 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the Naples edition for January 3, and the Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter edition for January 17, click here Florida Weekly – Lauer 1 and here Florida Weekly – Lauer 2

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BOOK BEAT 48 – Penny Lauer

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   July 4-10, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

Pelican Bay resident Penny Lauer has been enjoying Naples since 1999, when she and her husband Bob relocated from Cleveland. This Ohio University graduate loves the array of activities available here. She volunteers for many groups, including the Shelter for Abused Women and Children. Also, she has organized a Salon of eighteen women who are writers, artists, designers, and collectors. They meet regularly to discuss their projects and encourage one another. One of these projects was her novel, “Bottled Butterfly,” which has just been published.

Two years ago, Lauer discovered the Naples Writers’ Conference run by the Naples Press Club. She was impressed by the approach to publishing Bob Gelinas, head of Archebooks Publishing, discussed in one of the presentations. At the 2006 Conference, she took the opportunity to pitch a manuscript to him. Six months later, Lauer was offered a contract from ArcheBooks. 

Through young Nellie, “Bottled Butterfly” tackles the impact of regional culture beliefs, poverty, illiteracy, and the dysfunctions of family life on children and how those issues influence behavior in adulthood. Set in the 1930’s and 1940’s in rural Ohio, the story vividly depicts the issues that confronted young women back then, and how they remain much the same today.

Nellie is a courageous young woman whose deep inner strength and big heart drive an insatiable longing to achieve more than what others envision for her. There is a life tucked inside her mind that no one else can see, and her aspirations for her own daughter push her into making that life a reality.

“Bottled Butterfly,” eloquent and lyrical, is a kind of wisdom literature in which the guilt and shame that follow Nelly’s trauma of being sexually attacked at the age of eleven are gradually transformed into positive, productive emotions.

Lauer told me that the title “came about in a funny way. Almost 2/3 into the novel, I had Nelly talking with her father down by the railroad tracks, after a tragic incident between him and his son. Nellie had a sense that perhaps he, too, had been held back by circumstances that he couldn’t control. He let her know that he had just given up, and he told her that she should never give up or allow herself to get trapped. It’s a very poignant moment. Prior to that scene, I had Nellie explain to the reader that she was feeling all ‘bottled up.’ One night in bed, I woke up, shook my husband, and said that I had it. I had the title. It describes Nellie. She is the bottled butterfly. It fit perfectly.” The title gave the rest of the writing process needed focus. 

Before ArcheBooks accepted her manuscript, Lauer had a professional editor review it. This editor suggested minor changes and caught occasional slips in point of view. Once Bob Gelinas accepted it, Lauer was motivated to improve it even more before it reached the public. “I got really hung up then on the emotions of the characters, and I tried to make them as defined as possible. I asked four friends whose knowledge and wisdom I respect to read it and tell me their thoughts. Two of them wanted me to tell more about the brothers and Old Phoebe. I did up to a point, but I didn’t want to dwell on the brothers because I felt that doing so wouldn’t add anything to the main plot. I wanted Old Phoebe to remain somewhat of a mystery and let people really think about her.” All in all, the book was edited six times.

Lauer was spurred on by the need to tell this story, which had occupied her heart and mind for a very long time. She found the writing process amazingly rewarding. While writing, Lauer says, she was “happy and challenged and involved. You might say that I was consumed, but in a very positive way.” She “let the thoughts and words come on their own free will.” And she’d write “soaking wet from the shower, plop down in the sand during a walk and record, get up in the middle of the night and write for hours that seemed like minutes.” Thoughts might come to her “at a movie or at a restaurant . . . anywhere, and I rushed to get them down immediately, however I could.”

Lauer received a great compliment during the writing process. A friend who had read the manuscript called to tell her that, while agonizing over a dilemma, she had asked herself “what would Nellie do?” Lauer is ordering mugs wearing that phrase.

“Bottled Butterfly” is now available from online and standard booksellers as well as from archebooks.com.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club.

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