Guest Post with Andrea Fehsenfeld

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Hi Everyone!

I am excited to be here today to bring you a guest post from Andrea. Please help me give a warm welcome!


I’ve worked as a TV producer for many years and on set, actors are always asking directors ‘what’s my motivation?’ In other words, why is this scene important? How can it come to life in a way that’s true for the character and resonates with viewers? If its not compelling, if its not authentic, it falls flat.

When I committed to fiction writing in 2015, all I could think about was what was my motivation? How would I make a story compelling? The usual suspects of strong plot, characters and pacing were parts of that equation, but the fairy dust, the real magic, in every story comes from an author’s personal well. What experience(s) shaped us, defined us, make us unique? The raison d’etre for writing any book – the one that grips like a Chihuahua on a pant leg and won’t let go – is what makes a book special. Finding that compelling idea and rendering it into a story that resonates is the biggest task of all.

One life-changing incident triggered my debut novel Completion and you might be surprised to hear it all started with a lie, but don’t all good stories start with a bit of mischief?

It was 1985. February. It was raining, of course. Vancouver, BC is a rain forest seven months of the year. Frustrated, webbing growing between my toes, I called my friend Tim and we came up with a plan. Both our fathers’ worked for the airlines and we had access to cheap buddy passes. We could escape to Hawaii for a mere twenty five dollars. The catch? We couldn’t afford hotels. We barely had money for air fare. 

I was sixteen years old, so I did what all teenagers do to get what they want: I lied.

I told my parents we would be staying with friends of Tim’s and vice-versa. (Sound familiar, anyone?) But there were no friends. And since this was a time known as BHP - Before Helicopter Parenting - our parents didn’t ask any more questions or think twice. Go, they said. Have fun.

Backpacks in hand, no clue what we were in for, we hopped a flight to Oahu.

Seventeen hours later, my father received the dreaded phone call. A grim faced Hawaiian cop growled, “We have your daughter in custody.”

The night prior, with no place to stay, Tim and I had cased a variety of crash-worthy locations. We found low hanging fruit in the form of a pool cabana rooftop, belonging to some cheap motel. In the light of a full moon, we shimmied up a drain pipe to access it. The roof was flat, quiet and we promptly fell asleep.

The next morning, coconut fronds swaying above us, we were ordered down by two officers. A tenant in an apartment building across from the motel saw us and called us in. My parents should have been furious, but thankfully my father and I were similar. Travellers. Adventurers. Rebels. Growing up in post war Germany, he eschewed his parents’ strict rules. He hung out in sketchy jazz bars, when jazz was considered ‘devil’s music’. He smoked and drank too much. He’d travel to Paris for the weekend with friends and sleep off hangovers curled up in a ditch.

In other words, I had an ally. But it meant another lie.

Busted on a Monday, our return flight was still six days away. Scrambling, I told my father we could only get access to Tim’s friend’s apartment starting Wednesday. So he convinced the Hawaii police I wasn’t a run away, paid for two nights in the hotel and all was good. Except on Wednesday we were back in the same boat: homeless.

As the evening sun dipped lower in the tropical sky, we were lounging on Waikiki Beach, assessing the odds of being mugged if we decided to sleep there, when a dishevelled man weaved towards us. At first, he tried to sell us a collection of ugly etchings. Fast forward twenty minutes: when he found out we had no place to stay he offered us to crash with his ‘friends.’ Thrilled with our good fortune, we said why not?

At the far end of the beach, his friends - three other men, each with funny, pony-tailed hairdos – rinsed off in the outdoor shower and changed into flowing peach robes. Tim and I exchanged knowing glances but they seemed harmless enough. We all wedged ourselves into a late model Honda minivan and disappeared into the Hawaiian night. 

After an hour of winding roads in utter blackness, we finally came to a stop. Our accommodations for the night: a shack in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by farm animals. (We were unable to stay on the official cult property since we weren’t actual members.) Told we would be fetched at three a.m. for chanting, they left us and continued to their compound.

In the dark hut, we were surprised to find out our beds were literally mangers: wooden rectangles filled with straw. Pierced by the prickly shafts and chilly under thin, rough blankets, when a confused rooster started crowing non-stop, all we could is laugh ourselves to sleep.

We stayed with the Hare Krishnas for four days. We chanted, we prayed, we added salt peter (an alleged sexual urge suppressor) to chocolate chip cookies sold in nearby Hanauma Bay. The diverse members fascinated me and I peppered them with questions. What brought them here? What was missing in their lives? How long would they stay? Answers were vague and I couldn’t pinpoint the allure. Of course, Tim and I were encouraged to join, but as our departure day loomed, we let them down gently. Thanks, but no thanks. And the Krishnas, being gentle souls, let us leave.

But the experience lingered. It sparked a lifelong interest in cults and I knew one day, that would turn into a book.  Little did I know one day meant thirty years later.

My path to writing hit many detours. Careers in finance and TV took precedence. But I knew something was missing: an unfulfilled desire to write. When the story of Completion started to bubble out, it was like every cell in my body had re-arranged. A stranger coming into a cult environment brims with natural tension and when I meshed the cult concept with a supernatural encounter I had in my thirties, it was a potent premise. I had my motivation. I had my compelling.

A writer’s unique perspective is what brings a story alive. It’s the motivation behind the words. Without my vivid experiences, Completion wouldn’t ring true. Writers are always advised to write what they know. This isn’t just sage advice - it’s the best advice.

And although a lie kick started my entire process, in the end, it allowed me to write the truth.


Andréa is an award winning TV producer and Completion is her debut novel.
It is available in paperback and e-book here:
Happy Reading!

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