Every now and again, a reader will ask me how I came up with my stories. The short answer? I know and I don’t know. And that’s the absolute truth. US Journalist John Kieran wrote: “I am part of all that I have read.” That sentiment has always touched me deeply. Reading is something I internalize, something I breathe in and never exhale. I still remember 15 years after reading Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities how the character Sydney Carton made me feel: awestruck, inspired, and madly in love.
In those precious hours I first read his story, he became a part of me and he became me. He informed my beliefs about love and life and honor. His sacrifice became a theme I explored in my second novel, Echoes in the Glass. And Sydney Carton’s fictional life became just one of hundreds that have shaped my thinking and beliefs and life over the years. How crazy, how strange that a 19th-century writer from centuries past has had such a profound effect on my past, present, and future. And I know I’m not alone.
If you are an avid reader or a writer, you understand this phenomenon. Or do you? Do any of us truly understand how fictional lives can wrest out new beliefs about our own “real” lives? We, as storytellers, are essentially telling lies, hoping you’ll believe the tales we’re weaving and believe that these sometimes elevating sometimes horrifying characters we’ve plucked from our imaginations are woven with truths you never saw coming. We want to grab hold of you, wrestle with your hearts, turn our words into your tears. We want you to feel and love and dream alongside us.
A writer’s first stories tend to be autobiographical (sometimes unconsciously so). This isn’t a bad thing. I think of it this way: a person who has always wanted to write but has been denied—for internal or external reasons—is like a sleeping volcano. Remember that John Kieran quote, “I am part of all I have read”? Remember, too, that this is occurring all throughout a writer’s life too. When we sit down to pen our first tomes, we are fit to bursting with years of movie watching, pleasure reading, grammar rules beat into us by our teachers, classic books we had to write papers on, a love for the shapes and sounds of words, a secret desire to write the next Great Novel, our own sorrows and joys, successes and failures, news watching, personal tragedies, crimes we’ve committed and those that have been committed against us, and on and on.
Every life is filled to the brim with these elements; and yet, it’s the born writer who has this strange and desperate need to organize all those disparate elements into some kind of pattern that makes sense of the madness and chaos of our ordinary realities.
In my local writing group we often laugh at the accuracy of the meme “The crazy in me salutes the crazy in you.” We laugh, but we are all in awe of each other too. We remark at how wonderful it is to have found our tribe, people who understand this obsession with words and stories.
But again, I would venture to guess that they don’t have a clear handle on exactly where their stories come from. The closest I can come to describing those moments of divine inspiration is that it is a messy mix of all the stories that came before—both my own and those written by others: my personal beliefs born of the darkest sorrows and tragedies of my life; my deepest loves, desires, and fears; the depth and breadth of all my memories, my subconscious (confession: I’m not above stealing story ideas from my nightmares and dreams); and something wholly “Other.”
This “Other” is something I cannot name because I truly don’t know what it is. At times, it seems to originate from the deepest part of my mind, the part I don’t usually have access to. At other times, it feels a bit more like some external force, some colossal Thing whispering into my ear, saying things like “bring the story full circle by weaving the symbol of the moonstone throughout…” or “I know you think you know who was buried in the tomb, but you’re oh so wrong…” When those revelations hit me, I’m just as surprised as the readers are.
The best parts of the writing process are both the journey of the story’s unfolding as well as the road toward self-discovery. I know it can creep out my reader’s sometimes, but my characters do talk to me. They also say and do things I don’t want them to.
In my historical fantasy novel, Artemis Rising, my antagonist, Diogo Cheia, was giving me fits. I kept trying to turn him into a third wheel in a love triangle, but he just wouldn’t cooperate. So, eventually, I sat down to interview him, acting as a nosy journalist while he and I lounged with a drink in our hands in the Great Cabin on one of his ships. He was cagey and unresponsive at first. But I kept pestering him until I understand what made him tick. And he was a jerk. Through and through. And he refused to be anything else. So I let him win that battle while I kept control over the war. There’s truth to that adage about the writer as god. =) Sounds strange, sure, but I know I’m not alone.
For writers, our lives are a long succession of stories, these hidden and mysterious fires we feel compelled to kindle. I am haunted by the stories I have yet to write. Quite literally, I have 12 currently in the queue and waiting for my pen to tell their tales. Will I have enough time to tell them all? Will my readers like the journeys I’m taking them on? I’m going to go with yes. That’s another thing we writers have, the fire of eternal hope. =)
A freelance editor, e-book designer and marketing consultant for over a decade, Paradisi Chronicles Co-Founder and AudaVoxx.com Founder Cheri Lasota has dedicated her life and career to helping authors succeed in publishing. Her bestselling debut novel, Artemis Rising, is a 2013 Cygnus Awards First Place Winner and a 2012 finalist in the Next Generation Indie Books Awards. Her second novel, Echoes in the Glass, is a half-contemporary, half-historical set on the Oregon Coast. She is currently writing a scifi trilogy and a fantasy series. Cheri’s Paradisi Exodus novella series is written under the pen name Tristan James.
Copyright 2015 Cheri Lasota.
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