Tag Archives: inspiration

The One Hidden Story

kitchen-table-wisdomHidden in all stories is the One story. The more we listen, the clearer that [universal] Story becomes. Our true identity, who we are, why we are here, what sustains us, is in this story.  The stories at every kitchen table are about the same things, stories of owning, having and losing, stories of sex, of power, of pain, of wounding, of courage, hope and healing, of loneliness and the end of loneliness. Stories about God.  In telling them, we are telling each other the human story.


       Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom

The Secrets of Our Hearts

heart lock

Credit: Jacky | morguefile.com

In my last blog I talked about knowing ourselves, about using that knowledge as the basis of all we choose to write, even nonfiction.  I talked about knowing what we love, because that’s where all writing starts, with what we love, what gives us energy, what gives us hope.

But when it comes to writing fiction, we need to reach beyond what we consciously love.  We need to draw from the hidden parts of ourselves, the secrets of our hearts.
The first novel I ever wrote was called Foster Child.  Looking back now I see it as a well-meaning, overloaded, somewhat clumsy attempt to deal with important topics.  (Both religious and sexual abuse.)  It was, however, written with heart, the kind of heart that captured attention when it appeared in the world.  It also broke taboos so powerful in 1977 that they didn’t even need to be spoken, which, no doubt, contributed even more to the attention it received.

The topics came to me naturally.  As a clergy wife then, I had strong feelings about the proper and improper uses religion can be put to.  I had also fostered several children and had learned that foster children too often endure sexual abuse in the homes that rescue them.  I had strong feelings about that, too.  Riding on the energy of those feelings, I wrote my first novel.

7_29FosterChildInterestingly, though, it didn’t occur to me until years later to consider why I was so passionate about those abused foster children, passionate enough to spend months framing imagined experience into a story that I knew might be too controversial to ever be published.

The truth was, my passion came from a much deeper place than my surface knowledge of the abuse suffered by children in foster care.  It came from my own experience.  I had grown up in an intact family.  I had been constantly and routinely protected, as middle-class girls routinely were in the 40’s and 50’s.  Nonetheless, I had been sexually abused, my abuser my trusted godfather and family physician.

When I pounded out that first novel, I hadn’t forgotten that experience.  The memory has never gone underground.  But strange as it seems, I never thought about it as I wrote.  Not once.  Not consciously anyway.  Rather I thought about and felt passionate about abused foster children.  I transferred my own powerlessness, my impotent rage to my character.

I suspect that’s the way knowing informs stories for most writers.  We work not so much from conscious knowledge as from a magnetized core in our psyches, one that is at least partially hidden to us. Stories fly to that core like iron filings to a magnet.

In those stories we mine our own ferocity, our own passion, our own knowing.  And that knowing brings our characters to life, creates the illusion—sometimes even for us—that they live quite separately from us.  But whatever skins we dress them in, they are us.

Often they are the us we are struggling to know.

How might Foster Child have been different if I had been aware as I was writing that I was telling my own story?  I suspect I never would have made my way to the end.  I would have felt too vulnerable, too exposed.  My attempt at writing a first novel probably would have died, frozen by self-awareness.

In recent years I have begun from time to time to shed the protective scrim of fiction, to tell my own story in a straightforward way.  Does it make for a better story that way?  I’m not sure I can answer that.

I do know, though, that the garments of story have made it possible to spin my small personal experience into a much larger story, a varied and repeating one, and that’s good for a career.

Maybe it’s good for the stories, too.

The Heart Has Secrets



Often we are reminded that the heart has secrets which it cannot share with anyone, not even with itself. This is true because there is in each one of us lingering desires that have long since spent themselves in overt or direct action; there are the throbs of impulses that have not become sufficiently articulate to define themselves; there are vague reactions to experiences that are so much a part of our very substance that we cannot distinguish them from our true selves. And yet, all these and more are a part of the secrets of the heart. The secrets of the heart are the raw material of the genuine spirit of the individual. They are the stuff of the Spirit that dwells deep within each one of us.

Howard Thurman

Begin with Knowing

A successful writing career begins with knowing.

I’m not talking about knowing the market–What’s in? What’s out? What are the taboos? Where are the holes I might fill?—though knowing the market is certainly useful.

What I’m talking about and what is far more important for a successful writing career is knowing ourselves.

Not knowing in negative western psychological terms, the kind that concentrate on naming dysfunction:  “I’m a narcissist with a touch of megalomania.”  We need access to our own deepest energy.  We need an understanding of its origins.  Because that’s where our strongest stories lie, that place where our longing lives, our struggles, our unrequited loves, our grief.

That’s the place our fiction come from, of course.  We all know that.  But it’s where our best nonfiction lies, too.  The topics we can explore most successfully will be the ones that touch into our own energy.  They are the information we seek for our own understanding, the facts we gather and retell to sooth our souls.

This is true not only with the complex stories we gather for adults and for older children.  It is true even for the topics we choose for the very young.  For my first non-fiction books for young readers I proposed a series on weather.  Wind, Clouds, Snow, Rain. clouds

I didn’t come up with the topic because I had done my research and discovered that I could find many books on weather for older children but none for the very young.  I did do that research and found that to be the case, and I used that information when I proposed the series to the publisher.  That wasn’t, however, my reason for coming to the topic.  I stumbled upon the idea of writing a series about weather simply because I, a true Midwesterner, live in constantly changing weather.  And I love every manifestation of that change.  Seventy-five degrees and sunny day after day after day doesn’t represent the Good Life for me.

My Good Life is waking in the night to a thunder storm, watching fog wisp from the autumn valleys, stepping into the pristine silence of the first snow fall.  So when I turned to researching clouds and wind, snow and rain I was immediately enchanted.  The learning was fun.  The writing was fun.  And the small books that emerged captured a bit of my soul..

The results of my passion for weather turned into a series that has proven to have legs.  The first books came out in 2003, and they have done well enough that the publisher recently reissued them with redesigned covers.  And then asked for two more titles, Rainbow and Sun.

That’s the way passion works.  If I love my topic, truly love it, my chances of making my readers care about what I have written rise exponentially.

Of course, my love of a topic doesn’t guarantee that the manuscripts I create will sell, either to a publisher or to the public once they reach the marketplace.  But if I love what I’m learning, what I’m relaying, editors and readers are much more apt to love it, too.

Because love shows.

Credit: psymily | morguefile.com

Credit: psymily | morguefile.com


Credit: DarrenHester | morguefile.com

Credit: DarrenHester | morguefile.com

A person will worship something–have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts–but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives and character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.

                                                                                                            Ralph Waldo Emerson