In 1934, Ruth, a young housewife, gives birth to a severely handicapped son. Whispers of disgrace and shame swirl in the community as she desperately tries to teach him to be normal. Her embarrassed husband is unsupportive and her mother pressures her to place him into the Insane Asylum. Fearful for his safety, she resists their demands and cares for him at home.
As her son grows and her family expands, feeding, bathing and changing him become increasingly difficult. Reluctantly, she considers the Insane Asylum, until a 1946 Life Magazine article appears, documenting mistreatments, assaults, and massive underfunding of the asylum system.
At sixteen, her son’s strength is that of a man and she loses the battle to care for him. He is placed in the Insane Asylum where she witnesses barbaric conditions and inhumane atrocities.
This is the story of Ruth’s enormous plight to protect her son from a state system designed to keep feeble minded imbeciles incarcerated and away from society. This novel is based on true life events.
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Victoria Arendt was born in Toledo, Ohio. Inspired by travel and movement, she has lived in several different locations, including the vibrant city of San Francisco and the rugged mountains of Montenegro. Currently, she lives in Florida with her husband and scruffy dog named Simon. This is her first novel.
What is the Catalyst for Broken Pencils?
Month after month, year after year, decade after decade I had the same dream. Always the same dream. It was dusk. I was alone in my grandmother’s house, standing in her living room. An overwhelming need to close the heavy golden curtains shielding two large picture windows overcame me … Then I would wake.
~ ~ ~
As a child, I remember hearing snippets of information that my grandmother had another son who died. Questions were never asked and words rarely spoken about this unknown Uncle.
One day, I was standing in my grandmother’s living room, alone. She entered the room heading to the back of the house. Just inches away, I asked her a question. She stopped, leaned over and quietly said “Wait right here”. I stood in the room alone again, looking out the two huge windows to the world beyond. Uneasiness and anticipation floated through my body, my heart thumped. What was I hoping to know? In a moment, she returned holding a small black and white photograph of a baby. She handed me the image. My fingertips grasped the slim white edge of the weathered photograph, careful not to touch the printed middle. The picture felt cool and glossy between my fingers. A suspended silence threaded the air as I studied the photo of this unusual baby.
Broken Pencils tells the story of a housewife struggling to keep her severely handicapped son out of the clutches of the abusive 1940’s Insane Asylums. It is a story of tremendous anguish and horror. It is a novel based on true life events.
The wild beauty of the rugged mountains of Montenegro provided the perfect location to write Broken Pencils. Peaceful and serene, I found myself nestled into a quintessential koliba in a tiny village called “Nowhere”. Turning the upstairs room into a writing den, I completed the manuscript in a reflective, vigilant way and I will forever be grateful to the incredible hospitality shown to me by the Montenegrins.
The Bosnian border
Living in the wild beauty of Montenegro
Serene and beautiful
The quiet evenings
The peak of Vojnik
Painting in a 12th Century Church
Breakfast in Belgrade
"The Battle of Toledo"
In Toledo, 1934, during the heart of the depression and nearly 80 percent unemployment, the despair of factory workers gave the Toledo Electric Auto-Lite Co. a rich advantage over workers. Grisly working conditions, unfair production quotas and paltry wages were standard employment practices. With exposed hydraulic press machines stamping out shapes in metal, the punch press operators of Dept 2 were easily identifiable by their missing fingers.
Knowing that hundreds were waiting to take their jobs, the men of Dept 2 made a difficult decision to strike for workplace safety, higher wages and, more importantly, recognition.
The Electric Auto-Lite Co., in return, touted a million-dollar reserve to break the strikers and any formation of a union and, therefore, hired replacements. They used tear gas and vomiting gas against a growing picket line pushing a resilient group. However, unbeknownst to the company and the strikers, the picket lines would quickly swell with support of thousands from the most unlikely people, the unemployed.
What resulted was an all-out fight for “The Battle of Toledo” that would, ultimately, bring in the National Guard and leave a deadly path of destruction.
Champlain Street tells the story of this pivotal US worker’s strike. This novel is based on true life events.
For details on release date, please email
Three exclusive painting series were created before, during, and after writing Broken Pencils.
First Series: TIRE TRACKS
Second Series: INASMUCH
Third Series: COLORFUL MURKY LIQUIDS
For previous works, please click the link below.