As we know, I love stories and storytellers! This week we’re blessed to have the thoughts of novelist Colleen M. Story, talking about life philosophy as it relates to writing, and specifically to her beautiful new novel, Loreena’s Gift:
Why are you driven to do what you do?
This story came out of my insatiable curiosity about the afterlife. I remember even as a child that I spent a lot of time looking up into the sky wondering where I came from, and where I’d be going when I died. We attended church in my formative years, but I continued to seek out answers, so much so that I often felt like I was just a visitor here on Earth, and had to find out more about what waited beyond.
I think some of this came from the fact that my family lost people when I was still very young, and so death was an immediate thing I had to deal with during a time when I was still so new to life.
My curiosity compelled me to delve into a number of religions over the years, and I found so many similarities between them I began to seriously doubt that any one had better answers than another. I was also fascinated by the way scientific concepts and the more mystical ideas of “life force” and “chi” were finding common ground. I started practicing some of the “new wave” thinking of setting intentions, following one’s intuition, and proceeding as if the universe is there to support you. I was stunned at the way doors would open and opportunities would fall seemingly out of the sky.
I’m still seeking answers, but one thing I’ve learned over and over again is that our own personal energy (whether positive, negative, or neutral), our attitudes and personalities, and the intentions we set all greatly affect our experience of life.
Which gave me the idea: What if the same occurs in the afterlife?
What if the afterlife, too, is greatly affected by who we are, our beliefs, our attitudes, our expectations? And if that’s the case, what might different people find there?
My main character, Loreena Picket, a blind young woman raised in “cowboy” church in a small town in Idaho, gave me a way to explore that question.
How do you handle discouragement?
I do keep trying to get better at handling discouragement, but I’m a sensitive person and prone to self-doubt so it can set me back for a few days. I attended a workshop while working on Loreena’s Gift, for example, that was extremely confusing and left me feeling like I needed to change everything about the story, though I had no idea how. Fortunately, I came home to a request for the full manuscript that eventually led to a publishing contract, so that helped! (Always remember opinions are subjective!)
What I find usually happens, though, after a few days of being discouraged, is that I have this angry energy that kicks in, where I get kind of a “what the hell” attitude going. I’ve found that to be really beneficial over the years, as it gives me the grit I need to overcome the rough spots. It was this same anger that propelled me to a first place win in a Young Artist’s competition when I was in high school playing the French horn. I was sick of getting nervous every time before I played, and on the day of the competition, I got ticked off about it, and performed much better!
So I’d highly recommend anger—in the right doses, of course.
Tell us about a moment of blissful success.
I’ve been lucky enough to have several moments of feeling successful along the way. Loreena’s Gift placed first unpublished novel in a national contest while I was still working on it, which was very encouraging, and I ended up getting offers from four publishers before I eventually signed—all of which felt awesome after so many years working away, unsure if I’d ever get anywhere.
But I have to say that so far, I felt the most “blissful” success when members of my family responded to my stories. My mom remains Loreena’s biggest fan, and has told me many times how the story has been a comfort to her—something I never would have expected.
My older brother, who hasn’t done much fiction reading for decades, read my first book, Rise of the Sidenah, enjoyed it, and became someone happy to spread the word about my work. And my youngest brother, who was never a big reader, just finished reading the same book a few weeks ago and sent me an email that made me cry because it was so moving. The story really touched him, and he “got” some of the deeper meanings, which was hugely rewarding for me.
I mean, we all hope that readers enjoy our work, but we also know we can’t just expect friends and family to be our biggest fans—we have to keep those relationships separate from our work. So to have people I care about so much give me such incredible feedback makes me feel very fortunate.
Do you have an inspiring quote or saying that helps keep you motivated?
I have a notebook full of inspiring quotes and sayings that I’m always adding to, as different ones will inspire me at different times. The last one I wrote down is by James Altucher, author of what I’m finding to be a very inspirational book, Choose Yourself: Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream:
“The only fire to cultivate is the fire inside you.”
What’s next for you?
I’m working on the second draft of The Beached Ones, my next novel. I’m also really enjoying my efforts with Writing and Wellness, an inspirational blog for creatives, and have some bigger projects planned with that I hope to complete by the end of the year.
Colleen M. Story writes imaginative fiction and is also a freelance writer, instructor, and motivational speaker specializing in creativity, productivity, and personal wellness. Her latest novel, Loreena’s Gift, was released with Dzanc Books April 12 2016. Her fantasy novel, Rise of the Sidenah, is a North American Book Awards winner, and New Apple Book Awards Official Selection (Young Adult). She is the founder of Writing and Wellness, a motivational site for writers and other creatives. Find more at her website, or follow her on Twitter.
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.