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Issue Date: March 2004 Issue

Character Building

Linda Feagler

Like most of us, the women in author Sarah Willis? world must cope with the bumps and bruises of life while searching for its true meaning.

In her first novel, ?Some Things That Stay,? published four years ago, a teen-ager comes of age as she grapples with her mother?s tuberculosis and her father?s distant demeanor. In ?The Rehearsal,? released the following year, a stay-at-home mom finds her voice in the 1970s.

�A Good Distance,? to be published next month by Berkley, centers on a woman watching her mother succumb to Alzheimer?s disease as she confronts the unresolved issues in their relationship.

?he tale is particularly poignant for the Cleveland Heights author, who lost her mother to lung cancer last summer. ?A Good Distance? is dedicated to her.

?My mom was always one of my greatest fans and supporters,? says Willis, 49. ?I was able to share the story with her before she died.?

jillis shaped the character of Rose by asking her mother about her interests and concerns. ?Although the book is not the story of my mother?s life, it?s my mother?s timeline,? she says.

A stay-at-home mom who enjoyed penning poetry and short stories, Willis didn?t think she was cut out to write books until she enrolled in several writing classes at Cleveland State University. In 1990, one of her short stories won first place in a creative-writing contest and was published in hiskey Island, CSU?s literary magazine.

�rom that moment on, she quit watching television and wrote six nights a week, at least three hours a night, for the next 10 years. ?I was going to be a writer no matter what,? she explains.

Willis won the Cleveland �rts Prize for Literature for ?Some Things That Stay,? as well as the Book-of-the-Month Club?s Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction. Currently, Canada?s Ladyhawke Venture is making the story into an independent film.

Even so, Willis has kept her day job, clerking at the Cedar-Fairmount Pharmacy.

?As exciting a life as I am having, it?s not as financially rewarding as many people seem to think,? she says. ?It?s been a struggle ? but such a joy. I love the process of writing. There?s not a moment that I don?t sit down at the typewriter and within two minutes I?m lost. And the next thing, I?m looking up and it?s hours later.

?I really have a close bond with my characters. They?re with me all the time in one way or another.?

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