I breathe, I sleep, and I dream in story form. A carefully phrased string of words can create complex characters who find residence in my heart and are permanently etched into the walls of my soul.
This is a far more dramatic take on how stories and writing impact me, though the feelings are 100% true. I imagine that if I went to a BA (Bibliophiles Anonymous) meeting that my confession would sound a little something like this: “Hi, my name is Ashley, and I’m a bibliophilette.” (This is where you would all chime in with the slightly creepy, collective “Hi, fellow crazy person”) Yes, I dream in stories and find myself acting them out in my head during everyday life. I was the glassy-eyed kid staring out the window during class, imaging a fantasy world just beyond that cruel glass partition (I will probably dedicate a future post to the cruelties of allowing kids to see, but not touch, the outdoors during class). It’s actually quite entertaining—and distracting—to have a weightless book or multiple stories with you at all times, so no complaints. Move aside, 1 lb. Kindle!
When people starting to ask me why I wanted to start my career with a Christian publisher—since I would have so much more reach with a secular house, I was told—I simply have them refer to the afore mentioned delusions. Then there’s the “middle ground” (a.k.a. moral compromise) question: Would you ever be able to alter your writing style so it has more appeal to secular markets? Able? Yes. Willing? That would be a resounding no. Why, you might ask?
I can’t always pin down the exact moment when they come in and take over my life, because it can sometimes be slow going, but they do every time. I have lunch with the characters, spend the afternoon writing about their lives, and then go to bed envisioning what the next day might have in store for them. They occupy my waking and sleeping thoughts and resonate with me. If I hear a phrase or if I see something that reminds me of a character’s actions or what they might say, then I am immediately transported into the story. I smile when my characters—and other authors’ characters—are happy, grin like an idiot when they’re being cheeky, cry when they do, and hope for the same splendid ending that they wish for in their lives.
The other day I was writing a very emotion scene for the sequel to “Rising Shadows” (currently “Chasing Shadows”) and was honestly balling my eyes out—I could hardly see my laptop keys to type!—because I knew what it meant for Will. Sadly, I can’t give you the “nod” to let you know if it’s good or bad for him and those he cares for, because that would completely ruin the book for you. And then just before that, I had to kill off a character I had quickly grown to love, and when Sarah wept with loss and regret, I cried softly, matching my tears with hers. When I forced her into the arms of someone else for comfort, I was a distraught wreck, conflicted over what I had done to get her to this moment, but knowing it had to be done. Half agony and half hope—isn’t that Captain Wentworth’s line from “Persuasion”? I even took a moment to think over the lack of a future for this erased being as Sarah contemplated that same reality.
So, clearly, I’m a crazy author who thinks her characters are absolutely, 100% real—they are, I tell you! But I like to think that it just means I’m passionate about designing relatable people that live and breathe on the page, as much for me as for those who read. But you can see why I don’t want to compromise: If I don’t have some moral base at the center of my stories, an encouraging conclusion to the hero’s journey, then what is it, exactly, that will be consuming me so fully? I want readers to pick up my novels and know that they aren’t simply “fluff,” but to be assured that they have a purpose and will impact them in some way, hopefully for the better.
I started the sequel to “Rising Shadows” with the intent of making Sarah fall and lose her faith, to stumble into the darkness just a little to show that we can come out of it. But no matter how hard I pushed, how many precipices I forced her to tread upon, and no matter what obstacles I sent to block her path, she has proven herself to be too strong to fall completely. It was actually kind of funny to have her fighting back at me when I tried to give her a gentle push downward, though sometimes it was frustrating to have her and others constantly thwarting my designs. But then I realized that I kind of like that about her—the fact that she’s a fighter even when, from her perspective, she thinks that she’s failing and seems to have as many fears as I do. At least she’s willing to try, sticking her neck out there for her friends, and is always prepared to fight for what she believes is right, though she isn’t always as secure as she would like to be. Sarah struggles with the same doubts and—usually—makes the right decision in the end. I suppose as far as “character” qualities go, those aren’t too bad to focus on. So if I’m going to be consumed by something, I want it to be unwavering, passionate faith and strength, even amidst the trials. The strength of a lion and the meekness of a lamb, right? Something to work towards and write about, I guess. So if you will excuse me, I think I’ll go map out my aspirations in story form.
P.S. Something I realized this week: Success is not getting it right the first time. It’s kicking discouragement in the seat meat when the door slams in your face, and then you either bust the door in or attempt to scale to the window above it. I’m fairly certain Edison was anti-discouragement.