Wednesday 12 April 2017

Author's Inspiration – Stephanie Churchill #historicalfantasy @WriterChurchill

The Scribe’s Daughter

Kassia is a thief and a soon-to-be oath breaker. Armed with only a reckless wit and sheer bravado, seventeen-year-old Kassia barely scrapes out a life with her older sister in a back-alley of the market district of the Imperial city of Corium. When a stranger shows up at her market stall, offering her work for which she is utterly unqualified, Kassia cautiously takes him on. Very soon however, she finds herself embroiled in a mystery involving a usurped foreign throne and a vengeful nobleman. Most intriguing of all, she discovers clues to the disappearance of her father three years prior. When Kassia is forced to flee her home, suffering extreme hardship, danger and personal trauma along the way, she feels powerless to control what happens around her. Rewarding revelations concerning the mysteries of her family's past are tempered by the reality of a future she doesn't want. In the end, Kassia discovers an unyielding inner strength, and that contrary to her prior beliefs, she is not defined by external things -- she discovers that she is worthy to be loved.

Author’s Inspiration

Inspiration is a funny thing.  It’s often at its best when we aren’t looking for it, and when it comes calling, we’d better be prepared for the earth-shattering results when it’s taken seriously.

Unlike so many other authors, I never dreamed of being one; though in all honesty, the signs were always there if only I’d been paying attention.  As a child, I was a consummate daydreamer.  My happy place was most often found wandering my grandparents’ farm in rural Nebraska, dreaming up intricate stories in my head.  Writing in school came easily to me.  When I was in college, the professor of my required creative writing class continually called attention to my work as an example of what to do.  Despite all of this, it never occurred to me to actually write anything.  I thought knowing how to write well was no big deal.  Couldn’t everyone do it?  Didn’t everyone have movies running in their heads, with the only requirement for writing that you snatch those images and commit them to paper?

Fast forward into adulthood… While working as a paralegal in downtown Minneapolis, I rode the bus to and from work, an hour each way, every day, all week.  Needless to say, I inhaled books.  It was during these years that I discovered author Sharon Kay Penman.  After several years of loving her books, social media became a “thing”, and I began to actively engage in her Facebook fan club -- and through that, with Ms. Penman herself.

In 2011, Ms. Penman published her book, Lionheart.  As the result of a Facebook conversation in which she mentioned that authors rarely get detailed comments from readers about the specifics of why they love the books they read, I decided to do just that.  Consequently, I wrote her an embarrassingly long review (12 pages) of Lionheart.  After she recovered from her shock, we began to communicate regularly.  It was Ms. Penman herself who asked me the fated question, “Have you ever thought about writing?”

And thus The Scribe’s Daughter was born, but it was actually born out of an experiment.  When I set about writing my first book, I initially used a story that had been in my head for a decade (during the years it never occurred to me to be a writer)

 I wrote the first draft fairly quickly, but there was just something about the voice I didn’t love.  So I started thinking about what it would be like to write in first person.  As someone who loves to daydream, and who has an inner monologue continually running in her head at any given moment in time, it seemed a natural method of writing a story.

Right away I imagined that scene from the Disney movie Aladdin where Aladdin has just stolen an apple and is running away from the city guards, singing the song “One Jump”:

Gotta keep
One jump ahead of the breadline
One swing ahead of the sword
I steal only what I can't afford

I loved the idea of a feisty female heroine, so I re-imagined that scene from Aladdin, but this time with a character who would become Kassia.  She intrigued me so much that I kept writing, adding one more scene, and then another.  Her sarcasm and caustic wit grew on me, and I couldn’t stop writing.  I felt pretty confident engaging with this reckless teen-aged girl, and I enjoyed her immensely.  Until....


And this is where sneaky inspiration (the kind you aren’t looking for) rears its earth-shattering head.

I nearly stopped writing at this point, because I was too shocked by what had just happened to Kassia.  Who was I to write about such a thing?  Severe self-doubt slipped into my already-fragile-new- author-façade, and I second- and third- ad nauseam guessed myself.  After consulting with my writing mentor, who encouraged me to keep going, I decided that this single event would actually serve as the most vital key to developing the theme of the entire book.  My thoughts turned more philosophical.  Rather than simply tell a good story, I needed to do more -- I asked myself why.  My focus changed, and I’d never seen it coming.

Anyone who is honest will admit that they know at least one person in their life who has experienced some form of trauma.  For many of these individuals, that trauma involves some sort of abuse – be it physical, emotional, or sexual.  While I certainly hoped my book would be enjoyed by a wide variety of people from all walks of life and a wide age range, victims of abuse were primarily the ones I tried to speak to in the narrative.

And because abuse touches young and old alike, I needed the book to be accessible to younger readers as well as adults.  So how was one to go about handling such a hard topic while writing it so that it would go over the heads of the innocent while making it meaningful to the rest?  I wanted it to be authentic, but I also knew that authenticity would be ugly and uncomfortable, and that there would be a certain percentage of readers who would be turned off by the descent into authenticity, seeing no need for what happened to poor Kassia.  Still, I tried to keep in mind the warring sensibilities of the various audiences while remaining true to my purpose.  This was a challenge I faced until the very last page of the book.  If the book communicated a message of hope to those who needed it while simply coming off as a very well written piece of literature for everyone else, all my work was worth it.

So the next time you think about inspiration, realize it is a funny thing.  It most often comes when you aren’t looking for it, and when it comes calling, you’d better be prepared for the earth-shattering results if you take it seriously.

Twitter: @WriterChurchill

Links for Purchase

About the author

 I used to live my life as an unsuspecting part of the reading public.  I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and then after attending college in Iowa, moved to Washington, D.C.  Spending my days in a Georgetown law firm, by all outward appearances I was a paralegal working in international trade and then antitrust law.  I liked books, and I read them often, but that’s all I was: a reader of books.

When my husband and I got married, I moved to the Minneapolis metro area and found work as a corporate paralegal, specializing in corporate formation, mergers & acquisitions, and corporate finance.  Again, by all outward appearances, I was a paralegal and a reader of books.

And then one day, while on my lunch break, I visited the neighboring Barnes & Noble and happened upon a book by author Sharon Kay Penman, and while I’d never heard of her before, I took a chance and bought the book.  That day I became a reader of historical fiction.

Fast forward a dozen years or so, and I had become a rabid fan of Sharon Kay Penman’s books as well as historical fiction in general.  Because of a casual comment she’d made on social media, I wrote Ms. Penman a ridiculously long review of her latest book, Lionheart.  As a result of that review, she asked me what would become the most life-changing question: “Have you ever thought about writing?”  And The Scribe’s Daughter was born.

When I’m not writing or taxiing my two children to school or other activities, I’m likely walking our dog Cozmo or reading another book.  The rest of my time is spent trying to survive the murderous intentions of Minnesota’s weather.

Useful Links
Twitter: @WriterChurchill

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for letting me visit, Mary Anne! It was a privilege.


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx