The Story Behind Emeline's Father in ''A White Room''

Trivia Question: 
What was Emeline's father's name? 

Answer at the bottom.


(Warning: Article May Contain A White Room Spoilers)
 
“My father died with the taste of blood on his lips.”


Believe it or not, that first line wasn’t in the original manuscript of A White Room.
  In fact, Emeline’s father had almost no role in the book I started writing in 2008. Originally, her family and family home life had almost no significance whatsoever. I had wrote her to be an only child with a monstrous mother and an aloof father who shipped her off without hesitation. The importance of her family and her father in particular grew over time.

Photo: 19th Century Illustration - 

As this was my very first novel, I have to admit that the original manuscript was pretty, uh-hmm, well it needed some work. I started developing the father figure after writing a tiresome amount of opening scenes that everyone found to be pretty lackluster. The original beginning involved her mother running in to tell her she was getting married. Then Emeline tried to tell her father she didn’t want this but ended up keeping quiet so he would be proud of her.

No one who read these early drafts found the characters believable, nor did they care about Emeline or the fact that she didn’t "feel like" getting married. I realized—after reading many books and articles on the subject—that I needed stakes. My characters needed stronger reasons for doing what they were doing, and I needed to give the audience a reason to give a hoot.

I figured it out after an agent finally gave me the time of day in early 2011. I had been querying agents for over a year and had started to feel frustrated. I was so excited and relieved when someone finally requested my full manuscript, but when she didn't take me on as a client, I had had it and started making drastic alterations.

I thought about which elements I had been refusing to change and whether or not a change might be good. I asked myself if it would matter if her parents weren't there, and I believe that's when I thought of death as an option. I decided early on that I wanted her poor father to suffer from some kind of gruesome illness. For some reason I really wanted it to involve coughing up blood, but using consumption felt too easy and even cliché. I went in search of another type of disease and stumbled onto stomach cancer, which can not only involve vomiting up blood from the stomach, but also black bile. I found the idea of this just haunting and shortly afterward wrote what became the second scene in the first chapter.

At this point there was no significance of her father's death beyond the fact that he died. I developed the family's destitution and Emeline's secret regarding her father's death only after another agent generously gave me some notes on the beginning chapters. Ultimately though, he also decided not to take me on as a client.

A couple of months later I was reading an article in Writer’s Digest about how the beginning of a book should always reflect the ending, and I had also been reading a lot about the importance of the first line. I was thinking on this when the line came to me, “My father died with the taste of blood on his lips.” How deliciously dramatic! The rest of the prologue just flowed out after I wrote down that line and that's what became the first page of the book. A few months later, that opening won "Best First Line" at the 2011 San Francisco Writer's Conference.

Still, even at this point, I hadn't any other scenes with her father in it. I later wrote the scene where her father says his goodbyes to really show how much he meant to his family, but I still felt like there needed to be more characterization. I didn't just want him to be important to his family. I wanted him to be important to the audience. I wanted the readers to feel like they knew him.

That is what led to the scene with the rabid dog. It was partially inspired by my own experience. I was attacked by a dog when I was a child and had to have thirteen stitches in my cheek. The actual dog attack in the story is nothing like what happened to me, but after my attack, when I was still a child, I read how to kill an attacking dog by jamming an arm into its mouth and then spinning around and jerking back in order to snap its neck. I burned that idea into my mind in case I was ever attacked again. That was where that little bit came from. (Don't worry, I've got nothing against dogs. Proud Mommy of to two adorable Chihuahuas!)

In the beginning, Emeline’s father was an aloof man who married off his only daughter in spite of her desperation for freedom. Five years later, he grew into a loving father who put down a wild dog to save his children. Although he had little significance at first, he ultimately became one of the most important characters in A White Room.


Trivia Question: 
What was Emeline's father's name? 

Answer: Charles

Because Emeline always called him Father and the book is from her perspective, we only hear his actual name spoken in two scenes, when he says goodbye to his family before his death and at the end of the dog attack scene. Both times, his wife was the one who said it.

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