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From Novelist to Ghostwriter to Stu News Editor:
Lynette Brasfield Prepares to

Take Another Leap of Faith

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Lynette Brasfield embraces the great unknown. Mysteries intrigue her, change excites her, and uncertainty inspires her. That kind of curiosity – coupled with a writer’s eye for detail, an editor’s ear for language, and an immigrant’s taste for adventure – make for rich writing. It also makes for a fascinating life. Lynette sees the world through a unique lens and has been sharing her perspective with Stu News readers for the past two and a half years. But, as with all good things, her time with the paper is coming to a close. 

From Novelist stained glass

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Decades before making her home here, 

Lynette fell in love with Laguna and now happily calls it home

Writers rarely relish the spotlight. They tend to be introspective. They observe and listen, scouting out stories and tracking down leads. Then they spend a lot of solitary time behind the screen, distilling all they’ve learned. Lynette is no exception. But today we have the chance to crawl behind Lynette’s computer and sit beside her for a while, hearing her own childhood tales, early influences, life’s surprises and hardships.

A South African diamond in the rough

Heat, pressure and time – the three necessary elements for producing South African diamonds. They’re also a potent combination for creating an artful writer. Born in Durban, South Africa in 1955, Lynette grew up under the heat of apartheid. “Blacks were not allowed to live in the same areas as whites,” she says. “It’s not like they sat at the back of the bus. They had an entirely separate bus.” It was like that for everything –

beaches, schools, even language. 

It wasn’t until the year before Lynette left for university that the government permitted televisions inside people’s homes. “As a teenager, I knew apartheid was a terrible, inhumane policy. But the government allowed no television and censored all news, realizing that the truth would whip up a bloody revolution. We knew by osmosis that bad things were going on. We didn’t know specifics. No excuse really. And I was caught up in my own dramas.” 

Apartheid wasn’t the only the silent, and somewhat benign, at least for white people, backdrop behind Lynette’s early life. The real war raged inside her home. Three months after her parents divorced, her father died of an unexpected heart attack at age 39, leaving behind little money and an ex-wife who suffered from mental illness, including paranoid delusions. Lynette was only nine. She and her sister found themselves trapped inside their mother’s escalating nightmare. 

From Novelist by gate

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Living now in the place of her dreams

“Most of my childhood was about survival,” she says. “All I ever did was go to school, lapping up the praise, the one area of my life I could control, and I read a lot. Escaping into books was my way of saving myself from home life.” 

While institutionalized for a short period of time, Lynette’s mother received electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), an experience that only intensified her paranoia. “Every time she got a new job (she was a shorthand typist), she thought her bosses were taping her or putting drugs in her tea,” Lynette says. “There was a painting on the wall that she decided was causing hallucinations. So she would confront her boss and of course be fired.” 

Her mother believed the government was conspiring with family members against her, so her family members were banished from her life. She believed her light fixtures were bugged and Lynette’s friends were brainwashed. 

As a result, her mother was unable to hold a job and ran up mountains of debt. “I still remember the horror of waking up in the morning and realizing she wasn’t getting ready for work, which meant she’d been fired again.”

Lynette flourished once she escaped her childhood home with its poverty and paranoia. She attended Rhodes University in the Cape, emerging with a first-class Bachelor of Arts degree in English and History, and earned a graduate degree in English Literature from Natal University.

What came of those dark years was a love of reading and an appreciation for logic. “I kept trying to reason with my mother,” she says. “To this day, when something’s illogical, I feel this physical reaction and a need to fight against it.”

Life lessons, writing lessons, and “Nature Lessons”

Difficult childhoods are good fodder for fiction. Sometimes, the best way to process an impossible experience is to invent new characters, modify events, and find emotional truths in fiction. Thirty-five years after her father’s death, after a zig-zag career in fields including sales, teaching, and finally public relations, Lynette found her voice and began telling the story only she could tell.

Nature Lessons was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2003, astonishing readers with its emotional depth, complexity and honesty. The novel evolved from a short story, “Suits, Spines and Spikes.” “Nature Lessons refers to the way this little girl protected herself from her mother’s barrage, much like animals do. You either run away or put out your spikes.” Those instincts, Lynette says, stay with you for a lifetime. 

From Novelist Nature Lessons

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“Nature Lessons” was published in 2003 by St. Martin’s Press

Although Nature Lessons is her one published novel to date, Lynette never lost her love of the written word. “I’m naturally a writer who writes from experience,” she says. “Other novels I’ve worked on lack the authenticity of Nature Lessons, which was based on my life. It wasn’t easy to write, but there was a lot of great material there.” She pauses and laughs, “As a few would-be novelists have noted with some envy!”

After fiction, Lynette turned her experienced pen onto ghostwriting and, of course, journalism. 

Stu News: A chance to have her way with words

In 2016, Lynette brought all those lessons with her to Stu News. She began as an Associate Editor and, when editor and co-owner Stu Saffer was hospitalized in 2017, she moved to Managing Editor. By 2018, burned out from the demands of producing several original stories a week and editing many more, plus interviewing people and attending events, she scaled back to become Features Editor.

The job allows her to showcase her many passions – animals, nature, and travel to name only a few. An avid cat lover, Lynette highlighted the wonderful work of the Blue Bell Foundation for Cats. She’s profiled a pig, a therapy cat, and a feline movie star. She took readers with her on an Alaskan cruise, Utah’s Red Mountain resort, and to Chile, as well as countless local adventures and stay-cations. She meditates often on trees and hiking trails. She even gave of her face for the sake of a story, writing about her experience at Laguna Beach Aesthetics.

“Lynette is the epitome of grace and determination,” says staff writer Samantha Washer. “These qualities don’t always coexist, especially in an editor, but she’s that rare person that manages to make everything look easy.”

What readers may appreciate most is Lynette’s fantastic sense of humor. A lover of the pun, Lynette’s wit and intelligence elevate every story. “When she wrote her first stories for Stu News, I was laughing,” says Contributing Editor Maggi Henrikson. “I love her writing style and the sense of humor that works its way in.”

Tough topics ignite intrigue

For all of Lynette’s humor and whimsy, the deeper and more fraught themes seem to pique her interest – hidden pain, secret shame, and life outside the mainstream. When asked about her favorite projects over the past few years, some difficult topics appear as common threads: aging, homelessness, misunderstood religions and discrimination against sexual orientation. Sometimes several of these subjects can blend together at once. 

She toured two Orange County mosques with Hoffy Tours to gain a greater understanding of Islam. “What is it about Islam,” some participants wanted to know, “that breeds terrorism? How do women feel about wearing the hijab? How can women snorkel while maintaining their modesty?” Lynette never skims the surface in her work. She dives beneath, seeking answers to hard questions and accessing the hearts that lie below the stories. In other words, Lynette is a writer’s writer.

She’s sat down with homeless men to hear about their lives and look for concrete solutions to many of their common problems. She’s tackled discrimination issues against the aging LGBTQ community. In several of her stories, Lynette looked at the isolation that comes with aging, and wrote about how LifeLong Laguna, Laguna Seniors’ program, can help.

“There are no words to properly acknowledge or thank Lynette for her contributions to Stu News Laguna these past two and a half years,” says Shaena Stabler, Owner, Publisher, and Editor of Stu News. “It has been such a privilege to work side-by-side with her, in the trenches together, to put Stu News out and to honor Stu’s memory every day with what we do. Our readership has grown over 30 percent in the last year. Lynette has been critical to our growth.”

Global perspectives on local life

Lynette’s curiosity about the world also compels her love of travel, specifically travel that incorporates wildlife. During her time at the University of Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), working as a library assistant, Lynette and a friend hitchhiked to Victoria Falls, a roughly 450-mile journey they took in the center of a civil war, not to mention a lot of lions. 

In the years that followed, she’s made her way through Turkey, Borneo, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Greece, Mexico, New Zealand and Patagonia. She’s spent time with family and friends in Scotland, New Zealand, Australia and, of course, Africa. She’s been to countless countries, and several U.S. States. 

It gives her perspective, an appreciation for other cultures, and leaves her in awe of all the hidden treasures tucked around the world. She’s swum in the Pastaza River, a tributary of the Amazon, along with pink dolphins and piranha. She’s seen the boiling mud pond in Rotorua that looked like a thousand brown frogs jumping. And she’s watched a mother hippo defend her son from an adult male in Ngorogoro Crater. The world, it turns out, is full of infinite wonders.

From Novelist books and boot

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Even a travel writer needs a few travel guides.

For all that travel, Lynette loves calling Laguna Beach home. She moved here from Irvine in 2013, and still celebrates the day every year. 

What lies ahead

What does life look like when ten more hours suddenly open up in your day? Lynette’s not worried. She has an exciting travel schedule planned – Death Valley this December, and Costa Rica next year. She looks forward to freelancing for a few publications, maybe doing some PR here and there, as well as teaching a fiction workshop this fall through the City of Laguna Beach’s Literary Laureate program. Her feet (usually clad in tennis shoes or hiking boots) rarely stop moving.

“For Lynette, nothing seems to be out of the realm of possibility,” says Associate Editor Dianne Russell. “She jumps into each new endeavor with enthusiasm, savvy, and an incredible amount of talent.”

Lynette also looks forward to more time with her husband, Bill. Married now for 22 years with four children between them (two sons who are both professors, for Lynette, and two daughters for Bill), family life keeps them both busy.

From Novelist and Bill

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Lynette and Bill Brasfield in their Laguna Beach home

The circuitous journey continues

Life’s road rarely runs straight. From her time in South Africa, it would have been impossible to predict the future – a lost girl trapped beneath a mentally ill mother’s thumb in a country full of oppression. Who would imagine she’d emerge so successful? Looking back, maybe it feels inevitable. 

Whatever treasures the future holds, they will be endlessly interesting and wholly authentic. We at Stu News, and the greater Laguna community, wish you well on your next leap, Lynette. We can’t wait to hear the stories!