Tag Archives: underage drinking

I Am Not My Characters

2 Jul

First, I would like to thank Honya’s Bookshelf for nominating ShannonAThompson.com for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. I posted about it on my author Facebook, but here were the three blogs I nominated – A Writer’s Life, EBook Bum, Books are Delicious – and I would love for you all to check them out.

July is here, and I’m beginning this sizzling hot month with a topic that I often get heated about. (Not angry. Just passionate.) As a reader, writer, and employee of a publisher, I see all sides of this topic, but the most common misconception I see is writers believe in whatever the characters or story expresses. I am here to disprove this.

I’ve actually mentioned it before in my article The Top Ten Seriously Awkward Conversations I’ve Had When People Hear I’m A Writer, but here’s the small quote about that:

“7. Why are you pro/con (insert controversial political or religious topic here)?

I’m sorry – what? Just because my character carries a gun on his right hip or gets an abortion or believes God isn’t real, doesn’t mean that I do these things, let alone believe in them. In fact, I don’t have a lot in common with many of my characters.”

When I started publishing, I was really young and naïve. I never even considered someone judging my personal life off of my work, but – to my horror – this happened. (And “horror” is an appropriate word.)

My first novel that I published was November Snow. A lot of characters – mainly young children – die. (It says this on the back of the book. Just saying.) And for some reason, shocked readers seemed to look at me a little different the next day. I even had a teacher ask me if I needed to talk to someone in a concerned tone I will never forget.

To me, this was so surprising because I felt like they looked at me as if the violent world was a reflection of some deep and dark complexity inside my teenage soul, but – in reality – I was just writing a story about discrimination, violence against the innocent, and oppression.

The reason I’m so passionate about this topic – that authors are NOT their fictional stories – is because I felt as if the meaning of my novel disappeared under the concerned wave of my reading peers.

Before you think, “Oh. That was only because you were 16 and in high school.” Here’s a few example from my latest work. (Spoiler Alert for Seconds Before Sunrise. If you want to skip the spoilers, please go to the next bolded line.)

In Seconds Before Sunrise, Jessica goes out with her friends. She drinks. The reader sees her have a few beers and a shot of vodka, but she does mention that she drank more than that in the next chapter. However, I am now being asked if I am such a lightweight. (Because apparently all of us brunettes are lightweights.) I’ve also been asked if I like beer (no) and vodka (yes. Only Grey Goose. What can I say? I’m half-French.)

…sigh…

Just because Jessica Taylor goes to a bar underage with her friends does not mean I go to the bar with my friends underage, that I ever went to a bar underage, or that I’m encouraging kids to get into bars underage. First of all, I’m not underage, and second, I don’t have any friends. If I’m going to the bar, I’m taking my characters with me. (And probably a notepad so I can write interesting stuff down about interesting people who will probably become interesting characters in my next interesting novel.)

Now, if I had to be honest, sure, there are some things I might have in common with my characters. But I have lots of things in common with a lot of people. That doesn’t mean we are the same person. Same thing with characters. One of the biggest questions I’m asked about The Timely Death Trilogy has to do with the physical description of Jessica Taylor in Minutes Before Sunset and how I look.

I get it. Jessica has blue eyes and curly, brown hair. I can see why people might think that’s why she looks a certain way. But there are millions of people with curly, brown hair and blue eyes. And she also has a double identity. As a shade, she has straight, black hair, so she doesn’t always have curly, brown hair. In another point, I picture her hair to be much darker than mine and a lot more maintained. It’s also curlier. She also has blue eyes. Mine are gray – they are technically called “moonlit.” (Awesome.) And she has purple eyes when she’s a shade. When I turn into a shade – wait. I don’t. I don’t transform into a mystical being at night, and if I did, I surely wouldn’t admit to it.

But I try to avoid describing my protagonists in extravagant details, especially since it is written in first POV, because I want my readers to be able to put themselves in their shoes. I don’t want readers to think they are supposed to be in MY shoes instead. And my next novel, Take Me Tomorrow, is told from one perspective, Sophia Gray. She loves her elkhound-husky, Argos, but she hates cats. She absolutely despises cats. If you’ve been following me for a while, then, you already know that I don’t. I’m a cat lady. But here’s a venn diagram – Take Me Tomorrow style – to show difference and similarities.

tmtrefer

Just because a character does/thinks/feels something does not mean that it is a reflection of the author. It’s not some subconscious, multi-personality Matrix. It’s not deep-rooted secrets or twisted desires surfacing under the tip of our almost-empty pens. Sure, it could be that way for some (or even many authors) but not all of us are basing our novels and characters off of our real lives. The art is just art. It’s a story. And that can be a pretty deep and complex experience without the author’s personal life being involved.

I am not my characters, but more importantly – my characters are not me. They are complex and meaningful and questioning and confusing and lovely in their own way, and that’s what makes books so amazing. If I were the protagonist in all of my novels, you wouldn’t be shown a world with clairvoyant drugs or paranormal shades. You would read about me sitting around with my cat. And I think we all know what we would rather read. :]

Sit back and enjoy the read! And if you’ve ever experienced someone thinking you are what you write, please share below! 

~SAT

 

Writing Tips: Dealing with Controversy

17 Apr

I live in Kansas City, and right now, if you watch the news, I’m sure you’ve heard of the recent tragedies that have happened here. I drive on the highways where the “Highway Shooter” is every day, and I live less than one mile away from the Jewish Community Center where three people died. In fact, I heard the sirens from my living room when it happened, and one of the victims went to Blue Valley High School, the same school I graduated from in 2009. But this isn’t about me. It’s about the effect it has on the Kansas City community.

I am reminded of how quickly a community can change, how the feeling of safety is a fleeting comfort, and how important it is to come together during this time. But I wanted to discuss an aspect of a writer’s life that these instances reminded me of that I’m sure many writers struggle with:

When we’re writing about sensitive issues, and they occur in real life – and occasionally, right down the street – we question ourselves.

I went through this when I wrote “Sean’s Bullet.” My military fiction story that was published in 2013: A Stellar Collection is fiction, but it deals with real-life issues, including friendly fire and PTSD. My recently published YA novel, Seconds Before Sunrise, deals with underage drinking and reckless driving. During this past week, I am going through some of the same thoughts I had when I was writing these stories.

Am I being true to the story? Am I not being sensitive to the victims? Am I portraying this respectfully and honestly? Am I over-thinking this? 

These thoughts run rampant through an author’s mind when they are facing a story with controversial events, but the answers are harder to find when the events are right outside your window.

My current manuscript – which I have yet to reveal – has a few instances where guns are used. Being a Kansas City resident during a time where we’ve had recent shootings and murders, creates a sensitivity to these things. I am a fantasy writer, but things that happen in fantasy can still happen in reality, and when that happens, it causes this pause – this hesitation that seemingly stops everything. For me, this pause is caused by guilt.

I feel guilty for having scenes that have affected real people. I want to find another way to entertain people in my stories. I break away from my story and question whether it’s right or not. But, eventually, I have to accept the fact that my story is fiction, that my scenes with violence or pain are not creating what occasionally happens in reality – near or far – and that I am doing my best to be a respectable artist.

So what can writers do when they face this issue?

I can’t tell every writer how to approach this. There is actually a lot of debate as to how to handle many controversial subjects in fiction, but I am not going to talk about what I consider appropriate because that’s my opinion. Instead, I’m giving advice.

1. Step away from your manuscript – when there’s an event that shifts your emotions about a piece, take a day and forget it. Then, return and think about it carefully. Is this event directly related to your work or is it just similar?

2. Cope with your emotions – This can include many types of coping. For instance, you can cope with a real-life event and then cope with an event in your fiction. You might realize they aren’t similar at all, and your thoughts will help you realize if your opinions have changed (or even if your characters’ opinions have shifted.)

3. Consider the actual event carefully – what makes it controversial? Who is affected by it? Have you personally dealt with it? Have you researched those who are affected by it?

4. Be willing to change but also be willing to keep it the same – sometimes bad things happen. Just because it’s in fiction doesn’t mean that it is directly related to something real. But if your opinions change, you might have to find a new way to go about a scene, and both are perfectly okay.

These things are very difficult to discuss. Even writing this blog post was challenging because these moments are very emotional, and we all react in our own way, but – in the end – we want to be respectful while pursuing our art in a passionate way. Every experience in our lives results in a lesson, good or bad, and it creates who we are. Personally, I have used my mother’s death as inspiration. Does that make me a bad person? No. It allowed me to cope in a creative way. That is me. I shouldn’t feel ashamed of it. But – at the same time – I strive to use that experience in a respectful manner. That’s all I can do.

I can either hide behind my guilt or I can embrace my emotions and pursue my art.

There are limits, but they are self-imposed, and every artist must decide what is appropriate for them and their audience. It is a responsibility of an artist, and it is one to be considered carefully.

I discussed this today with a heavy heart, but I wanted to open a safe place to talk about this, because I know many artists who struggle with the same emotions. If you’ve had an instance where you have dealt with this, feel free to discuss below.

~SAT

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