Image by Lee Davis (Lins is on the left, Patti is on the right). See the PPS section of this blog post for more information.
A weird thing happened to me last week as I was reviewing the spec script Dan Bush and I had written for my novel Heart Soul & Rock’n’Roll. I suddenly I realized that I’m more like my protagonist Lins Mitchell than I ever thought.
Of course, I have always been more than a little aware that Lins is the character closest to who I really am. People have said to me, “Oh, but you’re Maggie!” (from the Saint Maggie series). Let’s be truthful, though. Maggie is way too good of a person, even if we do share a few things in common. Also, if I’m going to be completely honest, Eli has more than a little of me in him, as scary as that might seem!
Anyway, it’s not unusual for characters and settings in a novel to echo their creators. Of course, characters also can be giant billboards with arrows that point to their author and scream, “Look! We’re that person!”
When I wrote Heart Soul, Lins was close to me by design. She is an assistant minister at the Church of the Epiphany in a fictional Central New Jersey town called Cuylerville.
I also am an assistant minister at a United Methodist Church in Central New Jersey. If you want an idea of what a pre-COVID Sunday morning was like for me, just read the first few pages of the novel. The way Lins runs from thing to thing is very much like what I did. As for the coffee urn scenes… well, that is totally real. I have a very bad relationship with the dreaded urn at First UMC. We haven’t gone back to having a coffee hour after worship yet, but when we do, I just know people are going to ask where that thing is and how to make it perk.
The Church of the Epiphany actually is a love letter to a congregation with whom I have been for nearly 13 years. And, believe me, I have never been anywhere for 13 whole years. First UMC’s congregation is special to me and will always remain so. Likewise, our pastor – who will be retiring in less than a couple weeks – has been a kind, understanding, and caring human being. He also has been the brother I never asked for, but got – and for whom I eternally will be grateful.
In Heart Soul, Lins has turned 40 and hits mid-life crisis. She questions what she is doing and where she might go next, if indeed she goes anywhere at all. But college memories of playing in a band called the Poison Pen Society just won’t leave her alone. Clearly she misses those days. She moans to friends Patti and Sue, “I just want to rock out one more time before I die.”
As for me, I am nowhere near 40 anymore, but I do find myself wondering about growing my author-life both now and post-retirement. I am desiring more time to focus on writing. I knew that, and yet, as I ran through the spec script this time, one thing I hadn’t seen before suddenly hit me right upside the head.
That thing is this: even though Lins is feeling the urge to make changes, she is hesitant to go through with them.
Patti drags her off to a vacation at Point Pleasant Beach, where Lins ends up singing karaoke with her and then singing with a guy named Neil who just happens to have a band and is looking for a new singer. Abruptly, all sorts of doors just be might be opening for Lins. She might play in a band again. She might enter into a relationship with an interesting, although chronically broke guy. She might make new friends. She might find a new life.
But Lins drags her feet. In fact, in the script, Sue has had enough and gives her a little lecture that ends with the words, “Why don’t you just dive in for once?”
This time, those words hit home for me, too. I realized that I was hesitating to commit myself more fully to being an author. I was avoiding promotion and marketing because 1) it’s difficult to do and can be expensive; and 2) I’m scared to put myself out there
I was letting fear hold me back. I was afraid that putting more effort into promoting my work might not reap anything in the end. I also was afraid of receiving negative criticism. But negative criticism happens to every author – and sometimes it can be helpful. That’s life. It’s not all happy-happy, joy-joy. Bad or difficult stuff happens. Stuff that hurts or makes you sad. And that stuff happens to Lins, too, when she dives in. But this time I received a message for me. My fears should not stop me, either, not when I feel so strongly called to write stories.
So, I have given myself a firm talking-to and am going to become more assertive. The idea of self-promotion makes me cringe and the very real possibility of negative criticism still terrifies me. But I need to take a running start and dive off the board and into the water – being careful, of course, not to hit all the other authors swimming in the extremely small pool of the publishing industry.
At the moment, I have no idea exactly how I will “jump in,” but I believe that I will figure it out.
So, there you are. As weird as it may seem, that is how this author learned from a character of her own creation.
All I’ve got to say is, “Thanks, Lins!”
As for you, dear readers: You be brave, too. Take a deep breath and jump in.
Janet R. Stafford
PS: You may find Heart Soul & Rock 'n' Roll right here at Squeakingpips.com.
You also may find it at Amazon (HEART SOUL & ROCK 'N' ROLL: Stafford, Janet R.: 9780990835523: Amazon.com: Books) and other online book sellers.
PPS: The image at the top of this blog post came from a three-page collaborative graph novel wannabe between myself and artist Lee Davis. It came into being when Stephanie Hopkins of Layered Pages Media (https://layeredpages.com) suggested the idea to us. Thank you for shaping such a fun project, Stephanie!
And Lee, although you usually lean toward horror stories and accompanying imagery, you dared to illustrate a few scenes from a contemporary romance novel. Brave man! You may find Lee’s work at https://amazon.com/leedavis/e/B007J5CZ3O.
Love you both!
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder