“Never listen to your critics. They aren’t qualified to usurp the still, small, voice that speaks in the silence between your own thoughts.”—Russ Walden
It takes courage to write truths in fiction; write what hurts. To contextualize emotions, the struggles; tapping into the raw nature and grind of real life and transposing them into an altered universe. The result might not represent a true existence verbatim, but can harbor the angst, dilemmas, struggles, and sicknesses of hope-depleted hearts in order to instill hope in the end. It can be scary sometimes to release a story that holds a little more truth than you’d care to admit. Makes one feel vulnerable. But it’s always the still, small voice, a reminder that what’s written might be intended for one person only. And that one person to get it, feel moved and encouraged by your labor of love, washes over any potential collection of critics, large or small.
Writing with boldness, listening with care…
At last, I finished the first draft of one of my current works-in-progress. And this novel was a struggle. One of the biggest hurdles in my creative writing process, both in length and ethics. Took over a year to complete—a COVID-year, mind you, but still!
Normally, when I end a first draft, I want to celebrate. I’ve known colleagues to even crack open a bottle of bubbly at this early stage (with another after publication). The foodie that I am, I prefer grabbing one of my favorite meals: tacos, Thai, or t-t-t-t-t—spaghetti. Except, after I typed the last key yesterday, I was so spent that I nearly slid from my chair to the floor in an exhale, curled up, and sucked my thumb. Today, I feel like this Shaun the Sheep-ish depiction.
Standing alone in an amber space (sort of like a caution light between go and stop), nursing on a Binky, wide-eyed. Determining if the inner turmoil and opposition to completing this book was because of divine inspiration and the start of something new… or it’s crap. There’s a fine line there, ha!
Since I have other active stories, it’s time to rotate and finish another while this one ferments. Have to let the manuscript sit for a while until I can come back to it with fresh eyes.
This is just another friendly FYI post by your Shaun the Sheep-ish stand-in. Still standing, at least…
A reader asked, “Did that really happen to you?” after finishing one of my novels. I’ve heard this before, and the character-revolving question churns in my mind. It’s a great question. One for which I don’t always have a ready answer, because it’s rather loaded.
When I was a professional dancer, one of my fortes was Character Dance. I think this is where I first came to understand that, as an artist, I’m all my characters and none of my characters. I abandoned myself in a role, poured out blood, sweat, and tutus, until I became another persona. The interpretation was all mine (via the Lord’s inspiration and direction). After I hung up the costumes and retreated to the hotel or home for a cup of tea and a foot-soak, I was just me and nothing like the earlier identity on stage.
It’s the same with creating characters in books. Sometimes a reader will say, “I can relate to you,” when referencing the protagonist in a novel. I appreciate the response; it’s also interesting for me. While I can draw parallelisms, such as an incident or event that motivated the story, antics that aided a character’s development, or inject personal likes and dislikes, I’m not that person. Not even in my first novel, which is assumed in the industry to be every writer’s veiled autobiography. I'm just a vehicle to carry out another's story.
If I am my characters, then I’m also a human-flesh-eating imp, a war criminal, and a subterranean giant. I’m ALL of them (because creators invest in roles), and NONE of them (because I’m somebody else at the end of the day). Clear as mud? Lol. I'm inclined to think it's more the moral of the story that speaks (if anything does), which is sourced from a gracious God.
Regret. It’s a part of human nature since the fall of man, and I daresay we are born with having to deal with it. I have regrets. A few are doozies that keep me up some nights. They fall under the categories of immaturity, impetuousness, impatience, denial, poor choices—maybe ones that changed the trajectory of my life—and I’ll admit, foolishness. When I didn’t think or wait on the Lord, or heed the advice of others, but moved forward on my own volition. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Savage!
As an introverted writer, I have to say I’ve rather enjoyed this shelter-in-place era as little has changed in my day-to-day—other than closure of the Cherokee National Forest wherein lies tastes of freedom I particularly enjoy. But as a deep thinker, I’ve found this season especially challenging wherein thoughts can be dangerous. In other words, if the virus doesn’t kill you, or pro/anti-mask-wearers smack you depending on which “side” you’re on, regret just might. Unless you strive for a renewal every morning by God’s Word—our blueprint for life, a barebones necessity, our spiritual water, food, and shelter.
Writing is purpose-filled for me, messages contained within paper or digital pages intended for others. There is sometimes my own therapy in the progression, though. Which leads me to my current WIP (work-in-progress). After receiving emails asking if I’m going to write a sequel to Remnant, with the reemergence of Atizael, the answer is a solid yes. And I’ve started that; however, often the current of creativity demands a drop and refocus.
I’ve switched gears. Working feverishly to finish a book on regret and the transgressions and haunts of our past. It’s in the format of a dark fantasy romance, but the spiritual significance is there, and it’s what I—for some reason—need to spend my time on right now. The current working title at this point is Dark King’s Human Bride. And in being honest, unless my beta readers tell me, “Hey, Chicky, this is a bit much,” it’s coming out a touch graphic. I have a longstanding issue with much of Christian fiction being candy-coated anyway (perhaps more on this in another blog). Human nature is human nature, and evil is evil. Regret in all forms is regret in every form. It is what it is, and I have to be true to the nature of this beast.
But not without good intention! I find a quote by writer Anne Lamott perfect for the launch of this literary ride: “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.”
This savage has set off. More later.
Some people know what’s behind reissuing of books and recovering of novels. But because I’ve been asked more than a few times, especially recently, I’ll briefly share with those who don’t know and are curious why an online search might churn up more than one version of a particular work by an author.
If an author is contracted with a publishing company for a particular title, the author sells their rights to that title. What this means in industry standard is that the author enters a partnership. The author still has a say, but ultimately must come to an agreement with editor(s) (new boss) and graphic artists before the work is released.
When the term of contract is up, which can be anywhere between two and seven years, give or take, the full rights of the work revert back to the author and then he/she is free to seek publication elsewhere or even recontract with same company for another term. The full rights meaning the initial written work at the time of submission—before it gets an overhaul by the boss and staff. They retain what they still own, which almost always includes their artists’ work (covers) as well as formatting.
That’s why when an author republishes with a different company or version, you’ll see a new or different cover pop up for the same book. That’s the latest edition, and it’s the one that’s readily available—or should be.
I appreciate the various publishing companies I’ve worked with in the past, their devotion to the art of books and to creators, work ethic, and great rapport with their writers. I’m grateful that I’ve had pleasant partnerships. Thus, the ending of a contractual term is often bittersweet. Happens that my six-year term for Ice Dancer’s Hold has recently ended and the novella is being rereleased this week and made available in bookstores once again. Same novella, just hosting a different cover—and the new formatting I have to say is da bomb. Check it out:
I’m a seasonal woman. I love seasons. Winter maybe a little less, as I’m not a fan of driving on ice and snow. Thank goodness I live in an area where winter is fairly short and temperate. By the title of this post you may have guessed my favorite season: autumn.
Leaves are falling in abundance, although it seems the trees shouldn’t have much left at this stage but they still do. When yesterday darkened, I glanced out the window and witnessed a flash of burnt orange, gold and crimson leaves lift off a tree as the wind carried them away in a flurry. I thought about the symbolism of that, an allegory, a spotlight on shedding dying or dead things in circumstances. In my own life.
I love transitions, too, sometimes even the difficult ones. It’s the feeling of having to move forward through something that I appreciate. The shedding season is here in its full-blown glory. I doubt I’ll hunker down and go dormant this winter; it’s against my nature, even though something about that idea is soothing to the soul. But I will expect a sort of newness after the passing of this winter. A kind of renewal in gearing up for spring. I wonder what that renewal will actually look like; and the other side of it? I guess I won’t know until I get there. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the glinting beauty of scattering leaves while I can, and grab another cup of clove-flavored coffee helping to make the necessary shedding process a little more comfortable.
For the first time, I’d experienced a debilitating writer’s block. Part of the problem was that I had too many things going at once. Spread in different directions, digging into numerous genres and projects, I was suddenly staring at the computer, numb, with no flow, zero movement. It’s as if I’d lost focus and motivation.
Meanwhile, several acquaintances asked what my current work in progress was, so I shared about my writing block dilemma. A good friend put a question to me bluntly, said, "In terms of writing, Tessa, if you died today, what would you want to be remembered for?" And just like that I gave him my answer. He said, "Then stop wasting time and get to work."
That verbal smack in the face was exactly what I needed (thank you very much). A reminder, a single push sharpened my focus, renewed clarity of purpose and aim when time is valuable.
This honing perspective proves a good application if you’re struggling with any vocational motivation, really. Use it as a kick-start. If you died today, what would you want to be remembered for?
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…”—Colossians 3:23
Ahead of me in a store’s checkout line, a conversational clerk asked two young women, sisters perhaps, “What do you do?”
One bubbly answered, “I’m an interior decorator.” While the other in contrast sardonically responded, “I’m a writer, it’s complicated.”
I chuckled under my breath. Because I am a writer, I know “it’s complicated” could mean a variety of things maybe even all of the following. 1) It’s difficult to make a living as a writer though it’s your number one passion, 2) carving out a niche sometimes seems impossible, 3) the world doesn’t take you seriously until you have enough titles or experience for proof (especially true if you work from home), 4) you relate to people better with written words rather than spoken and so keep outward responses uninviting and compact, and 5) you don’t just “do” writing you eat, sleep, and breathe it.
“What do you do?” is a loaded question for a writer, especially a novelist. The answer is equally loaded. Everything you experience in life is fodder to process for potential stories. There is no vacation from writing; it is not a 9 to 5 job. Even on vacation, you are thinking about the next stage of your plot. Not to mention, the oddity of the profession can creep in, threatening to expose the fact that you’re not always aware of speaking aloud dialogue in public places by make-believe characters from whom you never want to part. That’s messed up. And perfectly acceptable. The rest of the world may never understand.
Writers don’t just do. They are. So be.
This season, I had the privilege of donning my ballet shoes to dance with the liturgical lyrical ballet group, Solum Deum, under the direction of my friend and gifted choreographer, Tess Dempsey (two named “Tess” in one group, imagine that!). It became an interesting contrast in my mind when, in one of the dances, we represented holy angels. Considering that one of the three novels I am currently working on has to do with the Nephilim, descendants of the fallen angels, and because of that research and the fact that, often, I have to dive into dark subject matter, the elements of this dance were refreshing. A refreshing experience on many levels! I continue looking upward and forward.