The Packing House
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Writing The Packing House took me five years. There are several reasons for this. It was my first book and much of the writing process was new to me and had to be learned. Many times I had to stop in the writing process and learn a new aspect of writing
before continuing. Oh, how I learned! For those who are serious about writing, and serious about writing with the intent to publish, there are supports out there. You just have to be driven enough to find them.
Another reason this book took longer to write has to do with the content. You might consider The Packing House an “issue book,” and I’d be okay with that. The book addresses bullying, PTSD, disassociation, and child sexual abuse (CSA). Some of this is personal to me, because I lived through it. In some ways, Joel’s story is my own. I fictionalized aspects of The Packing House which provided me with en
ough distance to “go there” and write about difficult and particularly painful, lived experiences, but I did it because I needed a book like this growing up, and they just didn’t exist. Now, thankfully, more and more books on this topic do exist, but still, there are fewer books for boys than girls on these topics. So, why did I write one, too? Well, so far, no one else has told a story like Joel’s story, so I decided it was time. I figured if I needed it, probably others with similar experiences might also need to read Joel’s story, too.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I most enjoyed how the many layers of the story in The Packing House fit together. There are three sections representing the three schools Joel moves between, each with their own mascot. Broad Run is “Home of the Panthers,” Sanderville is “Home of the Ravens,” and Ticonderoga is “Home of the Oceanside Sharks.” Each mascot represents a particular challenge Joel faces at that school. I leave that to the reader to decide.
Next come the chapters. Each one has a title that hints at the content or theme. Again, it’s open to interpretation. Another layer involves the fact that characters don’t always have actual names, but labels or archetypes. Joel usually has a reason for giving each one of these characters that kind of name.
Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret: the next layer aspect helps the reader differentiate between the three schools. I gave the teachers at Broad Run (Part 1) names of presidents. The teachers at Sanderville (Part 2) have random names, and I think that fits. For Ticonderoga/Oceanside (Part 3), I gave the teachers names of pencil companies. Not only did this help me keep all three locations clear, I hope it helps reduce possible confusion for the reader.
Other layers include the inter-chapter or between-chapter poems, which tell their own aspect of Joel’s story. Initially, they are included in the letters Joel sends to Amber, but eventually they become part of a portfolio Joel has to complete and turn in to pass English for the year. As these poems progress through the novel, the content becomes more and more personal and revealing about Joel’s struggles building right up to and beyond the climax. If I did it right, hopefully this helps the reader develop a connection with Joel.
I’ve included letters throughout the text, and many examples of the nightmares Joel has experienced and continually relives as well. Most of the letters are between Amber and Joel, and become a running dialogue. The letters deepen their relationship at critical points. As you will see, the letters which were written but never given, and those which are lost, come into play during the story. The nightmares provide the subtext Joel endures when he’s awake or asleep, or not sleeping at all in the aftermath of the suppressed trauma from his past. There is a reason this has begun to surface, but it is another thing Joel has to figure out along the way. Once the reader reaches the climax of the story, how they interpret what is actually happening in the dreams may change. The clues are built in, and there are other sensory clues as well, which are left for the reader to discover. How these elements and layers fit together was the part of the writing experience I enjoyed most.
How do you find or make time to write?
My book started with Twitter, believe it or not. One aspect of writing is how isolating and lonely it can and must be. The first and most important task for the writer is to get words down on the page. Any words. They can be amazing words, and they can also be terrible words. But words are the vehicle that drive the novel and the story forward. Without them, even awful words that will be cut during the editing process, the author has nothing to work with. I found hashtags on Twitter which helped me to write and find likeminded writers who kept me accountable for finding words each day. My goal was 1,000 words a day. It took me three months to complete the first draft. Then I set it aside for a week or two, before going back through and beginning the editing process.
I wrote somewhere between 15 and 20 cover to cover revisions in five years. I also did countless internal, partial edits. One of the methods I used to revise the many editorial, proof read, and layout edits for The Packing House included carving out time around my graduate school classes, my full time job, and spending any time with family each day. I ended up getting up a bit earlier and going to bed a bit later each day. My book manager calls carving out this kind of time #SmallChanges. Getting up 15 minutes earlier each day gave me an incredible amount of editing time. You’d be surprised what small changes can achieve for a writer.
What do you like to read in your free time?
First, I have NO free time. Any spare time goes to my wife and kids, to house chores, grad school homework, and so on. If I have free time, I often beta read for fellow writers. In addition, I have a pretty massive To Be Read (TBR) pile, and I do carve out time to read those books as I can. My TBR goal for last year was an epic fail, but all of that reading time went to editing The Packing House to the level needed for publication. I will be blogging about books dealing with bullying and child sexual abuse (CSA) and sexual assault (SA) soon. I am honored to be found under these two subcategories on Amazon.
What projects are you working on at the present?
I have started book two, Unpacking the Past, of the planned duology. In addition, I have started several other books and book series I plan to write after these first two. One is a Beauty and the Beast fairytale retelling, where the girl is the beast, and the guy is the beauty. It’s also in a steampunk world to explain the magic with magical realism and gadgets instead of fantastical magical abilities. Another is a dystopian futuristic world where twins are stolen by the government and used to cure all the diseases in their world. The main character discovers this secret by mistake, and gathers her surviving twin friends to help bust them out of the hidden underground facility. When I get serious about a project, I often create a Pinterest board to gather ideas for the tone and feel of the world I am creating and followers can peek at some of these projects on my Pinterest pages ( http://www.pinterest.com/gdcribbs/ ).
What do you feel the best course of action is if you’re being bullied at school?
I work in clinical mental health and many of my clients struggle with aspects of bullying in their lives. The best way to minimize the painful and hurtful aspects of bullying involve giving the least amount of attention to the bully and his or her supporters. Instead, try to focus on you and devote your efforts into being the best you, you can be, and eventually (this is far easier to say than to do) the bully will put his/her efforts into an easier target. This is the nature of a bully. To find out more about bullies and their allies, go to Violence Prevention Works You can also check out my Pinterest board on resources and tools to use against bullies ( http://www.pinterest.com/gdcribbs/bullying-prevention-and-education/)
Is there anything else you would like to share that would be eye opening for your readers?
The journey through the planting, pruning, and cultivation of this book has taken many years, but along the way, I also gained the skills needed as a writer to craft a story. What I’ve learned is that mine is not the only story that needs to be told. There are others out there. It is my hope that readers will find inspiration to discover their voices and use them to share even more stories with the world. We need them all. Please speak up.
Abuse, as depicted in this book, survives and grows in our culture and in our world through silence and looking the other way. The best way to eradicate it from our history is by shining light into dark places and speaking about it, no matter how uncomfortable we may feel. May this book help further that conversation. Right now, one in four girls and one in six boys experience child sexual abuse before they turn eighteen. The statistics are not getting better. They are moving in the wrong direction, toward one in three girls, and one in five boys. We can and must do better for ourselves and for our children.
Thank you to Christopher Anderson and the folks at www.MaleSurvivor.org who have graciously partnered with me to establish a scholarship fund for men who cannot otherwise attend a “Weekend of Recovery,” a retreat and workshop for male survivors of child sexual abuse to gather together and, in the strength and unity of fellow survivors, face those dark places and find healing together. Find out more at their website. A portion of each book sold will go to this scholarship. I thank you for joining me in this ministry for men by purchasing a copy of this book. Together, we can make a difference that matters. I have been significantly blessed throughout the writing of this book. Not only has it given voice to my own childhood sexual abuse experience, but it has led to self-discovery, post-traumatic growth (PTG), illumination, and profound teaching about CSA, recovery of a lost and important friendship, progress toward overcoming in my own healing journey, and the determination to help others do the same. I will no longer be silent. I welcome those of you who will join me.
You can join me across social media using the #YourStoryYourVoice hashtag to lend your support to this cause. I hope you write your story, too.
G. Donald Cribbs has written and published poetry and short stories since high school. Donald is a graduate of Messiah College in English and Education, and is currently a graduate student in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. He and his wife and four boys reside in central Pennsylvania where the author is hard at work on his next book, tentatively titled, UNPACKING THE PAST, the sequel to his debut novel, THE PACKING HOUSE (2016), by Booktrope Editions. Having lived and traveled abroad in England, France, Belgium, Germany, China and Thailand (you can guess where he lived and where he visited), the author loves languages and how they connect us all. Coffee and Nutella are a close second.