Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Themes and issues

How writers exploit their issues using characters 

By Julie Eberhart Painter 

In every one of my books adoption is an issue. It’s integrated in my quest. The many facets of adoption: being given away, giving away, and watching our grandchild given away are woven into our family history. Thus, secret baby style, my issues are explored in my romance and mystery novels.

Adoption has fueled my imagination. Who am I, and who were they, the givers of life but not for a lifetime?  It’s fired my passion to examine my written characters’ motives. Such life experiences make for inflammatory prose. The adoption issue creeps into my work like murder into crime novels.

At a hospice seminar, I told a perfect stranger, “Hi, I’m Julie. I’m adopted, I come with a disclaimer.”

Disarmed by my subconscious honesty, she answered, “I’m Jane, and I can’t have children.” We both had an issue-issue.

I was only nine months old when I was taken from a succession of foster homes and placed with my adoptive family—permanently. My first word was “home,” not Mommy or Daddy.  At four-years of age, I remember hiding when people came to the house, fearful of losing my home.  I ran from cars passing on the dirt road out front. In 1998, I petitioned the court to get my “story.” The non-identifying information stated that at three months of age I was friendly, alert and able to stand up for myself. Not afraid?

In Mortal Coil, the main character, Ellen, a nursing home administrator, has a compassionate heart. She and her first husband adopted a child, but didn’t tell her she was adopted. This loving omission became a problem for Ellen when her husband was killed in a car crash.

Secrets ignite violence. Murders in Ellen’s nursing home strike a match under an unlikely pair who would never have met without the afore-mentioned deceptions.

In Tangled Web, a seduction scene drives the plot that leads the reader from 1935 to 1951. It’s my projection of my birth mother’s life as I hope she lived it. Illegitimacy and adoption were life-changing moral issues during the 30s. Some time in the late 60s the mores became less judgmental and eased. But in the 30s with war on the horizon and women reaching beyond their domestic roles to find careers and help support their families, my character emerged stronger. She learned that the powerful do not always win.

In my most recent novel, Kill Fee, my heroine, Penny, must overcome a similar identity crisis. She discovers she has not inherited her fortune from her uncle, but from her loving father who has quietly guided her life.

A 95-year old resident in the nursing home where I worked as a volunteer asked me, "Do you think when I die I’ll finally meet my birth mother?"

It’s never over.

Julie was born near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and moved 17 times since her marriage. She stabilized, and has remained for 24 years in a California ranch five miles west of Daytona Beach, Florida. With seven novels in print, you can check her website:, and go to her Amazon Author Page:


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