“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…
“Forgive, Release, Bless…” It’s a mantra that’s grabbing my attention wherever I look and listen.
We can say we forgive someone. But if we then turn around and complain to another about how something was unfair, or someone hurt, stole, cheated or abused us, then we haven’t really forgiven. We’ve developed a grudge. That kind of emotional baggage gets weighty, a burden to carry around and unpleasant for everyone.
Writing is sometimes my therapy. I write a lot. Some I publish, some I pen under different pseudonyms, some go unpublished because it was the process that I had to go through to learn and grow, climb out of my cesspool. While creating another’s wilderness in story-form, I often go through my own spiritual wilderness. It can be tough sometimes. But the typed expressions help me breathe again, rejuvenate. I’ve had a lot of underwater dreams lately involving murky water, flooded caves, barriers, and scuba cylinders gone defunct. In one, I shout distinctly (because I can do this, it’s a dream, and I’m not a diver) to someone indistinct, “Breathe, brother, breathe!” Then there are explosions where barriers blow away, water clears, and breathing is miraculously unassisted by flung-away tanks, and I hear, “Live, sister, live.”
The tombs of our past regrets and afflictions teach us and model us for brighter futures. But some of us have focused on the tombs far too long (note to self). It’s time to step out of caves with flint-eyed focus on what’s ahead, and the life-giving promises thereof. This hinges around forgiving to where we can truly release the damage of our hearts, let go, and bless the damagers!
Even if you’re trapped in the middle of toxic, dysfunctional, or complicated situations, or have suffered inner turmoil for a long period. Maybe over decades you’ve experienced relational distress, cultural oppression, or unending sick-of-it conditions (whatever “it” might be), and you’re weary. Dead inside. Yet your sluggish legs somehow get you from point A to point B in a day, or you’re trying to move underwater wearing too many weights, burdens, baggage.
Matthew 18:18 tells us that whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. That’s the one thing we can control when we’re stuck. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks, Luke 6:45.
One of my favorite Hebrew names for God is El Roi. It means, “the God who sees me.” When we are alone, aching, forgotten by everyone else, cast aside by society, suffering in solitude, or feeling invisible, it’s the name we use to say, “but God sees.” He does. And with faith (our believing without seeing) we trust, knowing that God’s promises endure. He cares. The muck we wade through does not endure unless we allow it. So, keep hope alive in the secret chambers of your heart. Make the petitions of your lips daring prayers to El Roi, the God who sees, and Yeshua/Jesus, our guardian. Embrace the Ruach Ha Kodesh/Holy Spirit, our infuser (regulator?) and comforter. Hold fast to the Word, our way-maker, and the protractor for navigating uncharted areas.
I’ve spoken to others who sense a current spiritual movement or theme. Feels like a season of cultivation, and of internally letting go, despite circumstances, for walking into a new era. “Forgive, release, bless,” I hear again. Forgive the wrongdoer, cancel out the crippling, and bless. Following that, I hear, “double portion” where Increase marries Wisdom, because a greater harvest is looming.
God’s blessings are irrevocable. Even if they fall dormant for a time, they will flourish again and better than imagined. Wherever you are, whoever you are, here’s to new beginnings, fresh seasons, big visions, strong clarity, and abundant joy beginning in the heart and bubbling up out of your mouth. Breathing words that heal and help you walk into the freedom of your greatest dreams fulfilled and hopes restored.
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.
Okay, so it’s not so much about dilly-dallying, since I’m not really a procrastinator, but 2020 has presented many other challenges in the “D” grade. This includes Disruptions, Delays, Difficulties, and Derailments.
Unfortunately, I’ll not meet a few of my creative-writing deadlines this year. I’m truly sorry to those waiting for the next novel or sequel—and I thank you for your patience. I am so grateful for my readers and strive to do the very best for you with each project.
Since we’re all dealing with our own set of unique circumstances during this pandemic, I won’t burden you with the details of mine. But I will share that of the three books I was working on, two derailed. They’ve turned into something other than what I set out to do. I scrapped these manuscripts after having reached the halfway point and started again from the beginning. Right about the time I made this tough decision, I saw a relevant meme floating around social media:
With a sigh of relief, I can now laugh at myself and move along. I think these books needed to take on a different perspective and I’m treading, faithfully and prayerfully, towards completion. Unless more unforeseen demands (hey, another D-grade!) are looming, we can expect the launch of these titles in 2021. I’m just going to be an early bird on this one thing and say it now: Happy New Year!
May 2021 be your best year ever. 💝✌️
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.
Science fiction writer, Robert A. Heinlein, coined the term “speculative fiction” in the 1940s. Since then, the industry often uses the “spec-fic” label as an all-inclusive phrase for any fiction that is science fiction, fantasy, horror, space opera, steampunk, superhero, alternate history, dystopian, paranormal, supernatural, weird fiction, or a combination, and more. But I think the genre today has strengthened into something more specific. Add in faith components to explore and--voilà!—you may have Christian speculative fiction.
There’s an element, a key to what makes something speculative. I find a lot of authors call themselves speculative but aren’t. Maybe they’re science fiction or dystopian; however, something is missing. Because a writer pens fantasy, for example, doesn’t make him/her spec-fic.
So what is it, what’s the needed key?
Speculation is defined as a notion based on conjecture rather than knowledge. Something formed over incomplete information. It’s abstract reasoning or exploration of an opinion based on guessing. It’s mystery. It’s the book that makes you grab your chin and say, “Hum… I’m not sure what to think about that, but it’s interesting, and let’s dwell on it for a spell.” It’s a walk on the bridge between the intellectual and the visceral and not based on a plot or characters in a world-build where the author spells everything out. It’s asking, “What if?” in an imaginative landscape that’s open for exploration.
Too often I grab a book to read that’s labeled Christian Speculative Fiction, yet it’s a straight up Christian fantasy, for example, (though perhaps well-done) that’s mapped out and exposited leaving no room for real speculation or imagination from the reader’s mind. I see it as a common mistake in branding. In fact, some authors might do better if they branded in a particular subgenre rather than speculative fiction because it’s harder to define. Ask eight people what spec-fic is and you’ll probably get eight different answers.
I think for a book to be truly speculative it needs to leave room for questions, be an enigma, puzzling, something difficult to understand. My favorite spec-fic books have ingredients that leave me with a big fat question mark in the shape of a stairway to climb within my mind. “What did I just read? That was an interesting slant. It challenged me; haunted me. Let’s revisit.” In fact, if you find a novel that doesn’t quite fit in a specific subgenre, such as horror or fantasy, yet it does at the same time, and you scratch your head wondering what it even is—because the labeling is difficult for you to determine—then I’d say you’ve probably discovered the heart of speculative fiction.
There are those reading this who would speculate on the accuracy of my speculation. And I’m just speculating, but the more the merrier.
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:
The Unseen Anthology has released and is now available at your favorite bookstore. Twelve short stories of the speculative fiction genre by twelve authors, focus on encounters with the Unseen: God, angels, demons, spirits, the supernatural, and more.
View the official book trailer:
For those who don’t yet know, my contribution for this volume is an individual in-the-shadows glimpse at suicide in Suspension, The Troubled Life of Ralph Specht. Within enters “Specter,” the famous frontman for the rock band, Ghosts of Fleas. In the eyes of the world he led a good existence, talented, successful, and spoiled. Nobody thought he could do such a thing, fling himself over the edge of the bridge, even him. Not until the dark impulse. His verdict awaits.
My story is but one of a dozen very diverse, original, fictive accounts by intriguing authors I’ve had the privilege of joining in this project.
The Unseen Anthology. Pick up your copy, digital or paperback, via one of the convenience buttons below.
Look for it soon at Barnes & Noble, as well.
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