Sherrilyn Kenyon On Letting Characters Drive Story

Mindy:             Today's guest is Sherrilyn Kenyon, best-selling US writer of the Dark Hunter series. Sherilyn has published over 80 novels under her own name and also under the pseudonym Kinley MacGregor who writes historical fiction with paranormal elements.

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Mindy:             One of the things that I really want to talk to you about today is the fact that you didn't have the most auspicious start, really came up out from poverty to achieve everything that you have done. I Would love to hear more about that. Tell my listeners about that struggle and that journey.

Sherrilyn:         My dad was a Sergeant in the Army and, and my mother put herself actually through school very later on. My siblings are 10 and 16 years older than me and I have a sister with cerebral palsy, so everything that my parents made kind of went to my oldest sister, her medication and everything. Once my baby came along, he was in ICU for the first few weeks of his life. It set us back.

Mindy:             I think it's important for writers especially, but also all creatives to hear these kinds of stories because I'm certain that there were moments in your life where you've felt hopelessness and helplessness.

Sherrilyn:         Nope, still do! That doesn't go away. I always looked at it... you know, when my mother was 16 she had my oldest sister with cerebral palsy. Given that, you know, we weren't really allowed to complain to my parents because my kids have autism but, they're mobile, they can speak. We're very fortunate. So I've always focused on what I have. To me, as long as I've got my kids and they're healthy and they're happy, I can deal with anything else. And my mother bred that into us.

Mindy:             I love that mentality. I think it says a lot. I love what you're saying about motherhood. I'd like to talk about that a little bit more when it comes to writing. Most of my listeners are indeed aspiring writers and I'm confident that there are plenty of mothers and fathers out there. And also I'm sure single parents that often feel like it's so difficult to find the time and make that time. We do have to remember that our children are the lights of our lives and the most important thing in our lives. So can you talk about finding that balance between your need for a creative outlet or even you having to hit a deadline for business reasons versus that care and that need that you have for your child and your family?

Sherrilyn:         Oh, absolutely. I mean, I was published before my kids were born. I didn't have to really make time because the work was always there. But unfortunately the writing did not take off immediately. I wasn't JK Rowling where I wrote one book and suddenly hit the big overnight success. You know, I ended up having to work two, three, sometimes four jobs while on deadlines. So the deadlines were nothing new. I mean, I had deadlines since I was a teenager, especially with my writing. I was a latchkey kid. And for people who don't know what that is, I mean my parents couldn't afford a babysitter so we got locked in the house while they were at work. So when I had my kids, I didn't want them to know that feeling of isolation or I didn't want them being raised in afterschool care and all that fun stuff.

Sherrilyn:         Cause I had horror stories from all my friends. the one time I went into one when I was real small it was, like, I'm not a very big person. And I always tend to find that one person who thinks they can steamroll right past me. And unfortunately I'm a Chihuahua who thinks it's a Great Dane. So I'll stand my ground and it's not a good idea, especially on the playground. My oldest was born, like I said, prematurely. So I brought home like a three pounds tiny little thing that would fit in the palm of my hand. To me the kids were always gonna come first no matter what. And in terms of the writing, it was always flexible. So I would wait until they were asleep. Sometimes I would sit there with them, you know, on my chest. One of those little snugglies, or sometimes when I didn't have a snugly or, I couldn't afford one. I'd have them wrapped in a blanket tied to me. They ever needed anything. And even now, I mean they're grown men, but if they need ramen at 2:00 AM they know they can come down here and go... Mom? It's like, okay, I'll go make your ramen for you.

Sherrilyn:         When I did have to work outside the home, that was when it became tricky and I'd have to do things like I worked for Ingram entertainment and I was very fortunate. My boss would let me go in at like three, 4:00 AM I could work while they were at school and then I'd be home when they got off and I'd pick them up, bring them home, make them a snack and then I'd sit with either laptop or... you know, pictures of my house shows that my computer was in a corner of, I had one in the corner of the kitchen, one in the corner of the bedroom and one downstairs where they were. So wherever the kids were playing, I could follow them room to room with my disk and insert it in a new computer and start working while I watched them.

Mindy:             That's wonderful. I like that idea. So when you were in this situation as a child, when you were a latchkey kid, as you were saying, did you always know that you wanted to write? Was that always a goal? For you?

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Sherrilyn:         Oh yeah. I was five years old. I told my mom, I'm going to be a New York times best selling writer, and my mother was putting on her makeup, doing the mascara, and she stopped and looked at me and said, honey, do you even know what that is? No, but it's on all the books you read, so I think it might be a pretty good thing to want to be. Since I wanted to be a writer. Right? My mother just kind of rolled her eyes, like, Oh my God. My Brownie manual has, when I grow up, I want to be a writer and a mother. I did it in that order.

Mindy:             That's amazing. Speaking of doing it in that order, your first book came out while you were still in college, which is very impressive. I wrote a book while I was in college, but it certainly didn't get published and it didn't deserve to be published, but can you talk a little bit --

Sherrilyn:         I don't think mine did either! Oh, I've apologized so many years for that. It's like, I thought it was great. I did. I did, but I was 18 and 24 please forgive me.

Mindy:             I totally understand. I remember when I was writing in college, um, just pecking away at my laptop and, well, it wasn't even a laptop. It was a desktop thinking that I was writing a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. And then of course going back and reading it later and just being like, Oh, this is actually just dreck. Like, this is trash.

Sherrilyn:         Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I've got quite a few of those. But then others that I read, I'm like, that's salvageable.

Mindy:             I want you to talk a little bit about that experience in college because I remember, and I honestly, let's, let's be truthful. I feel like it is something that most of us still feel, or perhaps even as an adult, struggle with that idea that if I get published, everything will be okay if I get published.

Sherrilyn:         [Laughter]

Mindy:             So, I mean, was that your perspective as a college student? Just talk about learning that lesson that it's quite simply not true.

Sherrilyn:         I never had that perspective of it. I got published for the first time when I was 14. And my life really didn't change. Well I'd get a couple hundred dollars here and there off my writing. Really by and large what I got paid in were just copies. I'm not sure if they still have publications that pay you like that. I was just happy. It's like I've got a byline. What was I? Grade school when I started selling my own? My dad had one of those old um Oh God, what do you call them that-- the ditto machine. So, but dad had one of those so I would roll mine off and I would sell them to my friends for like a nickel. I was so happy to have anybody come up to me and go, do you have the next installment? What's going to happen to these characters next? And really that was all I ever concerned myself with. It wasn't, this was somehow going to solve all problems or just like - people like my characters! And that's cool!

Mindy:             Definitely. So when did that change? When did you hit a point where you were like, I think I would like to try traditional publishing?

Sherrilyn:         That ended as soon as I made my first sale at 14. I mean I saved up my babysitting money when I was 12 to get a subscription to Writer's Digest magazine. But to me it wasn't about making money. It was more, more people will read my characters and like them.

Mindy:             And now you've made this transition to where you've had more than 80 novels on the New York times bestseller lists. So you were right, you told your mom you were going to do it and you did it. Are you ever just set back by your own success?

Sherrilyn: :        Nooooooo. No. And I don't look back on that journey, unless they make me to, because it was really painful. Every time a book comes out, I'm giddy as a school girl to this day. I mean in the back of my mind is the old saying "neither success or failure are ever permanent." That monster stalks me everywhere I go.

Mindy:             Again, I know many aspiring writers and I was one, I was one too who really felt that if I hit that goal, if I got published, that everything would be okay. And obviously that isn't true. I have eight books out and am contracted for two more. Every day is still a struggle and I can't imagine having 10 times that out. Can you talk a little bit about retaining that drive and the energy and the creative spark when you are so prolific?


Sherrilyn:         It's always the characters. Things will happen in life. Like, you know, most people know, I'm going through a divorce right now. So it, for me right now, it's really hard just because my attention is being drawn to everything but the writing for the first time in my life. I really can't write when I want to be and that, that's the most frustrating thing for me. Yeah, y'all have made it impossible for me to work. But you want to live off my work. And I don't understand this concept that people... I mean you know how hard it is and how time consuming it is. And the man was here for 27 years. Although in 27 years I never could convince the ex that magic fairies don't walk in and write the books at night while I, you know, the two hours while I sleep.

Mindy:             Nope.

Sherrilyn:         You know, really, I'm not goofing off the 22 hours I'm sitting in my chair working. I really am working. But in terms of finding the drive, it's the characters, it's always the characters. There's so many, you know, I write cause I want to find out where it goes. I'm not a plotter, I'm a pantser. I get these amazing people in my head and they start talking. It's like, what's your story? I got to know. And so that drive has never really gone away. But you know, unfortunately life will occasionally grind us to a halt. That's when it gets frustrating.

Mindy:             Definitely. I'm also a pantser and I feel that amount of anxiety is alleviated once I start writing cause I don't have a plot. I don't have a plan. I don't know what's going to happen. But I trust these characters to tell me their story and I just feel like they're kind of guiding everything and they're bright enough and real enough in my head that I believe that the story is there and it will unfold. Is your process similar?

Sherrilyn:         Both of my sons are actually writers. "Mom, am I doing it right? I don't know." And it's like just sit in the chair and do it. You spend so much of your day agonizing over the perfect structure of your sentence. Kid, just get in there and let them go. It may be written in blood but it's not carved in stone. You can always rewrite. My older son finally took him a long time too cause he was angsty about it and he finally got - Oh yeah, I can rewrite! Yeah. I get it now. It's like that only took 24 years. But okay!

Mindy:             It's true. Rewriting is writing. That is where I believe the real work comes in because I feel like a first draft is very much just me solidifying and moving an idea and a concept onto the page, so it's a physical object or at least a Word document that I can manipulate then in order to draw the story out, I think it's interesting you mentioned your son said your son asks you, am I doing it right? And I don't think there's any one right way to write a novel. I'm sure we all have different approaches even though it sounds like you and I are similar, I'm sure we still do things differently. Over the course of writing all of these many, many, many novels, has your process changed at all? Have you tweaked it?

Sherrilyn:         Mine hasn't, but you know, I've, I've been in the business now for almost 40 years of my God. Yes. It really is that long. Thousands of writers... well, tens of thousands of writers I've met over the decades. Yeah. Everybody has their own process and you know, one of the things that I tell when I teach workshops, if you have a beginning, a middle and an end, congratulations, you're a writer. Celebrate. Because you've got to where a lot of writers don't. Yeah, don't ever let anybody tell you how to write your books. I mean, that's... writing advice. It's like a buffet. You go in and you look around and you go, Oh, I like that. I like that, I like that. But if you don't like it, leave it behind cause you don't need it. What works for you works for you.

Mindy:             That's right. And I personally, when I have fellow writers that are friends that are very serious plotters and planners, and when I tell them about my process, they just break out in hives. They think it's crazy.

Sherrilyn:         They're horrified. Yeah. They're like, God, how can you get to the end of the book? You don't know.

Mindy:             Well, yes, exactly. They think I'm crazy. It's funny because I don't actually poke at my process a whole lot. I've been doing it for a while and I don't want to look at it too hard because I don't want to break it by examination.

Sherrilyn:         Exactly. And that's... you know my son, "Mom, explain!". It's like I can't and I don't want to like you said, I, you know when I do workshops and stuff I'll teach people - this is what a plotter will do. We're called pantsers Cause we set our butt in the chair and we go. We just go. But I can tell you all about how to plot one and how to do character stuff that I can tell you the mechanics of it. But I can't tell you what I do when I sit in my chair cause I don't know, I just daydream and type.

Mindy:             I'm so glad you say that because I am similar. I just daydream and type. I love that. Um, I feel often that I'm not even really writing something. I feel like I'm just kind of funneling or channeling something.

Sherrilyn:         Exactly. Yeah. Like I'm a medium. So the spirits are out there and they're whispering to me and they're telling it to me. I'm... All I'm doing is the conduit for it.

Mindy:             Yeah , absolutely. I feel, I feel exactly the same way. It's, it's interesting to know that someone else has that experience.

Sherrilyn:         Oh, there are a lot of us.

Mindy:             So you were saying about your characters and how your characters are, what draw you in and bring you back and keep you moving forward and keep that flame of interest alight. When you are as famous as you are. When you are as prolific as you are and when you are multi published the way you are, your characters are no longer yours alone. They have become the property of the public. So do you ever experience any type of push or pull with that concept when people have strong either positive or negative reactions to your books? Is it always just - hooray! You care! Or do you ever just have this, you know, this used to be just mine.

Sherrilyn:         I guess maybe because I'm from a really big family and we had to share everything. So I don't feel like they were ever just mine, but you know the characters have a life of their own. It's like -- get in there! I told you! What are you doing! Stop! Just Stop!

Sherrilyn:         One of the things I try to do, especially with descriptions is I write the characters so that anybody can relate to them. Criticisms I have taken is that they're like ambiguous when it comes to... I don't describe them usually more than once, maybe twice. And I do that intentionally because I want any reader anywhere to focus on their emotions because at the end of the day, we're all human. And so I want whoever the reader is to feel such a connection with that character. They can slide right into their skin, whoever they are.

Mindy:             Agreed. As a reader when I am reading something, I will put people that I know, especially when I was younger, put people that I know in certain characters skins and if there was too much physical description of the character, then it might actually knock me out of the story because I was picturing my friend or my enemy or whatever, and then they gave me too much info and it took away my mental picture.

Sherrilyn:         Yeah, exactly. It's like, no, I focused on, what the meat of the character is and what matters to that character and you know, their reaction to things more than I weigh this or I weigh that or I'm this tall. Unless it's something where I'm doing it to make a point. Like in the case of Ash, he's 9,000 feet tall and it's problematic for him. When you're unnaturally tall or you're unnaturally short, that that does become an issue. Or in the case of Bride, Bride's not the biggest heroine I've ever written. She's just the one who had the biggest problem with her weight. So, you know, unless it's something like that that I'm writing, you really aren't aware of their, their physical descriptions or limitations or not limitations.

Mindy:             So speaking then about fans identifying so closely with your characters. Do you receive a lot of, um, emails, tweets, DMs, people reaching out to tell you what the books have meant to them, or a character has meant to them?

Sherrilyn:         Oh, God, love them. Yes. Yes, I have. And I love it. Yeah. It's all about that connection.It's what I got into this to do. It's to make people care about my people. Although, you know, some of them... You're allowed to hate Apollo. Apollo, you can hate!

Mindy:             Well, that's why... I had an event last night and there was a girl there who told me, she said, I'm really mad at you about the ending of one of my books. And I said, that's awesome. I'm really glad that you're mad at me because I made you care deeply about something that never happened to a person that doesn't exist. It's a huge compliment.

Sherrilyn:         Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.

Mindy:             So tell us a little bit about Hex Life.

Sherrilyn:         Oh, that's the tiny little short story I wrote with my son. There are a lot of short stories in there from other writers. That was fun cause it was a, an idea that my son had and he actually wrote the first draft on it and he's like, I don't know how to finish it. Mom, can you help? And so I got in there, I'm like, okay, I gotta fix your grammar. And then I fixed a couple of other things. He's like okay, fine. It's our story now, Ma. We had a lot of fun with it and I'm like, well, can I put a Hell Chaser character in? And he went, sure, go ahead. Just take it over.

Mindy:             Tell us then about At Death's Door.

Sherilyn:        At Death's Door is also a Hell Chaser, Dark Hunter book. No spoilers cause it just came out. Oh my God. I let one drop real bad at Dragon Con. And I knew I'd done it the minute I said it. And everybody got real quiet. And I went "y'all didn't know that, did you?" No, we didn't. I, Oh God, no I didn't. Yeah, I did. Oh, it's about Belinda who was turned into a voodoo doll, living voodoo doll, really get to go into the Caribbean West Indies, folklore of which I've been wanting to do in the past two books but was trying to hold back so that I could really delve deep into it with the third book. Um, so I, you know, it looks at the loa, um, the hero is one of them. Uh, he's actually a psychopomp so it's, it's really different to me, and it was very cool to write.

Mindy:             And tell me a little bit about some of the research that you did on that. The culture and the, the magical systems and everything involved there.

Sherrilyn:         My mother's best friend was a Gullah woman. There's some hoo-doo involved. My aunt Berta would do a lot of hoo-doo, root work and stuff like that, which not necessarily all of them do, but Berta was a real big on the root work, grew up around it. And so, you know, as a little kid, it's like, one day I'm going to write about these. And she'd always make me little poppet dolls for different gifts and different things. And I've got... they're all over my house. That's what actually got me first interested in all the different kinds of poppets that were made because they're not all African or West Indian. They're also a lot were made in Europe, which most people don't realize that were done. Um, so just kind of been a lifelong interest of mine.

Mindy:             With so many books out there, so many series running. And you were saying that you actually let something slip before when you were on a panel. Do you ever hit a point where someone asks you a question and you don't know the answer? Cause you can't remember what you wrote?

Sherrilyn:         Knock wood. Not yet, but I have had people ask me things that they were mistaken and they'll argue with me and I'm like, no, I'm pretty sure I'm right.

Mindy:             So last question - what are you working on now? What do we have to look forward to here?

Sherrilyn:         Queen Of All Shadows. I don't have a date for it yet. I hope it's going to be out next fall. That's a book that I actually started a billion years ago. It was supposed to come out. Oh, was it after Zarek's? No. Um, it was the book that was supposed to come out instead of Unleash the Night. !hen I first sold Dark Hunter, I had, I don't know, 60 to 70 books that were in partial states of completion from, you know, my teen years. I've been working on Dark Hunter forever. Anyway. And so his was the one I was working on when Ren said hello, you don't want to tell his story, he's a loser. Put that manuscript aside, come talk to me. And so I'm finally getting back to it. It's only been, gosh, what, 15 years? 16 years?

Mindy:             I understand. The first novel I ever wrote, I wrote in college and 15 years later is when it got published and is actually my best selling book. But I do understand returning to something like that.

Sherrilyn:         Yeah. Yeah. And it's very different too because you go back and go, I hope I'm a better writer now.

Mindy:             Oh, for sure. Um, I, I definitely was. There's no doubt. If I weren't then something has gone horribly wrong.

Sherrilyn:         Oh yeah. Yeah. But in the back of your mind, you're like, maybe I'm not. Maybe I'm fooling myself. I don't know.

Mindy:             So what you're saying is that imposter syndrome never stops?

Sherrilyn:         No, never. Never. Never.

Mindy:             That's good to know. And tell my listeners where they can find you online.

Sherrilyn:         I'm at Thank you, mom. Let me spell that cause my mother was unkind. I put her through 36 hours of labor supposedly, and that was her curse on me. Um, it's M Y S H E R R I L Y

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Making Art Even When You're Lost with Andrea Hannah

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Mindy:             Today's guest is Andrea Hannah, an award winning author, essayist and workshop leader. She teaches on living a healthy, creative life at her Wild Heart retreats and writes about making art on Twitter and Instagram. Andrea joined me today to talk about using the same process, whether she's writing fiction or nonfiction, and the constant hustle of being a successful freelancer.

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Mindy:             You have written both essays and novels. You are a staff writer for Bustle and your YA novel, Of Scars and Stardust released from Flux in 2014. So you obviously have some experience across the board with different types of writing. If you could talk a little bit about your own creative process and how you manage those different arts of writing with the essay versus fiction.

Andrea:            It's super interesting because when you think about it, all of those forms and structures are completely different, right? But when I start any piece, whether it's a long form piece or even a short story or a poem or even if it's something for myself personally, I always start the same way. I think of my creativity as a message of what I want to say and who I am. We work in ideas and we are putting new, innovative thoughts out into the world that hopefully catch fire. So I always start with what do I want to say with this piece? I have tons of interests and I could go in a million different directions at any time. What is it that's important for me to say and am I the person that should be saying it?

Andrea:            So once I have that down, then I kind of work in big ideas, big abstract ideas I might think of mood or tone or theme. And that's where I started getting some visual ideas. I have like a private Pinterest board where I start putting things together for that. I build a world around it, characters and plot. And that's true for both nonfiction and fiction. So even when I write essays about my past, you're still applying a narrative structure to a life - basically to chaos. The only difference with Bustle is that I'm projecting Bustle's message. So they have a specific prompt and they have a message and what they want to say. And I'm just making sure that I echo that.

Mindy:             As someone who is interested myself in freelance writing and that process of getting picked up to write smaller pieces as opposed to really burying yourself in something that's going to take possibly years to write and hope that it can turn into an income. Can you talk a little bit about managing those smaller pieces and turning those smaller pieces like an essay into a freelance income? How does one get their foot in the door at a place like Bustle?

Andrea:            It is so rewarding to just work on a piece for like a week and turn it in and see it get published and be done with it like it's off your plate and it's so satisfying because you know how it is with a novel. It's just years and years until you can really see the finished product. Security's a big issue. I have two small kids and if I wanted to make a freelance career, I knew I would have to have something that had some stability where I knew more work was coming just for my own mental health. Bustle is actually one of the best companies to freelance for because they often post job listings online and they will look for what they call staff writers, but they're actually freelancers. Like I have to pay taxes out of my... On my own. So they have staff writers that they are on staff and you get a weekly schedule and a weekly list of articles and you apply for the job like you would any other job.

Andrea:            Like I think I sent in my resume in a pitch, a sample pitch, and then they called me and we had interviews and back and forth kind of thing. So, and I get a trial day there, but it's been wonderful. I've been there for a year and a half. It's a great company to work for and I know that there's always work coming, so it's got the stability of a regular job. But then there's also the flexibility, which is great. A couple of my other freelance clients, I go straight for. They're people that I pitched directly where I liked their work online, like they might be small business owners or studios or different places that I've been to before that I really like and I had sent them an email just conversational, friendly, like, Hey, I've been to your yoga studio or I really admire your work or I've read this book and I follow your business on platforms.

Andrea:            If you ever need a content or a copywriter, I do both. Here's a sample of my work, please contact me. And that's worked out for me a few times as well. So I have a couple of stable ghostwriting clients that I meet with on the phone every week and I write blogs and different social media posts for them as well. So, and then I also place like the periodic essay in different places as well, like Thrive Global or MindBodyGreen or any of those. That's not where the majority of my income comes from, if that makes sense.

Mindy:             Every freelancer that I've talked to talks about the hustle involved because you are chasing down every job.

Andrea:            Oh, for sure. Absolutely. So for me, having those stable behind the scenes incomes are really important for me because it's enough money where I feel secure enough and anything after that is bonus. So if I can't hustle for a specific week because I have a sick kid or I'm sick, it gives me a little bit more leeway.

Mindy:             You also have extensive experience, not only with your own creative process, but nursing the creative process of others as well as their creative soul. You offer both workshops and retreats to assist creatives. So if you could tell my listeners about how you came to create these programs and what they have to offer to participants.

Andrea:            You know how you look back at your life and there are clues to what you should have been doing all along, especially when you were younger and you don't really see it at the time. But hindsight's twenty twenty. That's kind of what this has been like for me. So I was recently at lunch with a group of writer friends and we were chatting about writing stuff and all of them said, oh yeah, I used to come home from middle school and just open up my mom's clunky laptop. And all I did was write until it was time for dinner. And they all chimed in. They're like, yeah. And I wrote my journals and I wrote in this and I was kind of like, aw, I didn't do that at all. I never had that desire to do that. What's interesting is I was always kind of like a creative kid who liked to make crafts and, and do art, and I went to art classes and I did dance and ballet and I wrote funny stories for a period, but mostly I was a creative kid who wanted to be a helper.

Andrea:            Anybody who needed help. I was always like, oh, I'll help you. And I was always kind of like, everybody's unofficial counselor. And I loved it. So I went into teaching actually. Really, I was a special education teacher for a long time and that quenched that thirst to help people, but it didn't necessarily allow me a lot of leeway to, to explore creativity and others'. And then early in my career, my mom died and she was super sick for a while before that. And my mom was a really, really creative, wild woman person born a little bit too soon. Um, she was just born at the wrong time and didn't have a lot of chances to express as her creativity.

Andrea:            She was a single mom working a lot, that kind of thing. And so her passing away really lit something in me to help creative people create with less friction in their lives. And uh, it merged the creative part of myself and the helper part of myself. There's this lack of allowing in creative people, so many artists and writers and musicians I talk to say things like, I can't write that because that's not marketable or I can't write in the morning because then I might miss this. I can't miss a single basketball game or else I'll be a bad parent. Or, if I take time for my own writing, the house will go to garbage, kind of thing. There's so much resistance to just letting yourself be who you're going to be and allowing yourself to be creative in the ways that you were made to be creative and allowing your projects to be what they're going to be.

Andrea:            And so over the years between my teaching - I also teach a creative writing class at a community college - doing mini workshops, has really led me to distill that theory down to "let's teach people how to know themselves, how to allow creativity to come through them." That's basically what my retreats are about. That's what any of my newsletters are about. It's, it's about time to sit back, find out who you are and what works best for you, and I've designed some specific tools, like a mapmaking process. And we do use some esoteric tools sometimes, like we dip into Tarot and astrology and all that stuff as tools for self-reflection so that you can find your own path and what works best for you and and make some cool stuff.

Mindy:             One of the things that I really heard you talking about underneath all of that is guilt. Essentially it's a lose lose because we feel guilt if we aren't being creative because we do know that we are not fulfilling something that we are called to and also we are failing that project. Whatever that project would be. Whether you have one novel in your, if you have 10 it's like if you are not fulfilling that story, your story that no one else is going to tell, then you do feel like you're failing on that end. But then as you're saying, there is just a myriad of real life requirements that we have everyday. Kids, job, work, house, all of the things, social pressures, even all of the things that we are required to do to be a healthy functioning human being or at least socially responsible. And I think especially women, especially when it comes to the house and keeping the house clean and keeping food on the table and raising the kids. And it's not meant to be a sexist statement because plenty of men fulfill those jobs too. But I think women suffer more socially and personally if they're not doing those things and doing them very well.

Andrea:            I totally agree with you. I can't tell you how many people, women in my life have been or women identifying people in my life have been like, ah, I can't. I when the kids get older, I will make that website, write that novel, paint that painting. Women more than men, need somebody to stand there and pat them on the back for a second and be like, look, it's all right. You can get going on this. And I like being that encourager and I, even if that means I'm not in person encouraging them at a retreat. Maybe it's through Instagram posts or a newsletter or whatever. I just want women to know that what you make has value beyond and who you are has value beyond what you can do for somebody else.

Mindy:             I think it's really interesting too, you're talking about being a creative yourself yet, but many of your urges are directed towards helping others with their work. And I find that really fascinating to be honest because, and I say this as a creative myself, most of us are pretty self involved.

Andrea:            That's so funny. I, yeah, I didn't think of it like that.

Mindy:             I have never felt like, you know, I am going to help someone else make their work as good as possible because that is a drive that I have. You know what I mean? It's not. My passion is for my own work I guess is what I'm trying to say.

Andrea:            So you know what's so funny about that? I think that goes back to me as a kid being like, well what do you mean? Nobody? Like everybody else is sitting around painting and writing. Like I want to go help that kid on the street or something. And I'm not trying to say that to be like, look at me. I'm so awesome. It's just truly has been a drive within me my whole life. And I think what's interesting about that is I actually just quit teaching in a traditional school very recently and I had been teaching part time for a while. Up until then, and to be honest with you, I could have financially quit teaching a while ago, but I didn't for the reason that I didn't want to ever stay at home all day and write. That has never appealed to me. That kind of gives me hives. Thinking about it, I wanted to teach like I want to help people. I want to be interacting with people regularly. So I just started doing my retreats last year and I've booked a bunch of workshops and I'm regularly teaching at the community college by my house. I feel like I could leave that school setting. I wasn't going to be at home writing all day, which is so funny because people are so different.

Mindy:             Coming up. How Andrea's upcoming release A Map for Wild Hearts is designed to help creatives find their way through the obstacles blocking their artistic goals.

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Mindy:             So let's talk a little bit about how you do help people find their way to their art. Your newest release A Map for Wild Hearts: How to Make Art Even When You Are Lost, is designed to help the reader with a myriad of problems that they may come across in their creative process, but also their larger lives. So if you could tell us a little bit about that, what your goals are for that book and some of the things that you're hoping to address with that title.

Andrea:            A Map for Wild Hearts is one of the books in my heart. And I would say it's kind of a culmination of all of my life's philosophies wrapped up into this workbook. And it's part guidebook, it's part essay, and it's part research-backed philosophy on how to create with less friction. So the First Section of the book is titled How You Got Here. And it's very forest metaphor heavy, but it's all about how you may have gotten lost. Various ways that creatives tend to get lost. Everything from toxic relationships or showing your work before you're ready, or a comparison or lack of stability and structure in your own life or not dreaming big enough. And it talks through each section that way. And then the second section is How to Make A Map. Basically, how to get yourself out of the woods. You start with the idea and I walk readers through their creative process.

Andrea:            There are seven chapters where it starts with internal and it ends up being external. So the first three chapters are ideas and identifying your own voice and identifying your direction you want to head into. And each chapter comes with specific activities. Everything from prompts to mad libs style, fill in the blank to little quizzes. So they go through and do that. And once you've got your internal stuff together, you can kind of start to seek out relationships that are good for you or how to know when it's time to show your art to somebody. That's a lot about emotions. Like jealousy and anger and sadness. And then it also talks about joy.

Mindy:             I particularly like what you're saying about toxic relationships and also comparison. It doesn't matter where you are in your journey, someone is ahead of you. I know so many people and I was one of these that I thought, you know, if I could just get published then I will be happy. And uh, that's simply not true. You appreciate being published, but then you're like, well, I've got one book out now I want two. Now I want a movie deal. Why don't I have a Netflix show? You're never fulfilled. And then you're looking at other people going, well they have that. Why don't I?

Andrea:            So I'll tell you a little story. I'll be completely honest about this book as well. This is indie published and it's the first time I've done this and I've actually hadn't had any interest in indie publishing even though I think it's wonderful. I just, it hasn't been my avenue of choice until now. And I have an agent, we had this on submission for a long time as a proposal. And then I wrote the entire thing and had it professionally edited, which I don't suggest anybody does that, but I was so certain that this book had to be out in the world that I was going to indie publish it if it didn't sell. So it was an investment for me. We put it out and it got really close to being picked up several times. But in the end it was the marketing department at acquisitions that was like, I don't know, it's kind of this strange hybrid, like I wouldn't know how to market it.

Andrea:            Is it adult? Is it this? Is it a workbook? Is it a prose book kind of thing? And so it got turned down at acquisitions and for me that was heartbreaking. But I sat with myself a little bit there and I said, okay, what's the message, right? Do I think this is important enough to go out? Like I tell all these creatives, be brave, make without fear, put things out there, take chances. So I had to do that as well. And I am indie publishing this. It comes out on August 13 and to be honest with you, I'm, I'm happier with the publishing journey than I've been in a long time. It doesn't have a traditional book deal, but people are excited about it. People who read early copies have said that it's helped them so much that they can't wait to share it with other people. And that's really all I wanted for the book. So in the end, my goal is aligned with with what it is and I think that that matters more than looking at what other people have going on for them.

Mindy:             That's the truth. And I know just from having gone to acquisitions and been turned down quite a few times, that marketing, they're the ones that make the decision in the end and as a creative it is frustrating because I have zero control over what the market is doing. You have to look at it as a positive in that if it's the case that it made it to acquisitions, then that is an indicator that you're doing something right. It's not a judgment on your work usually. It literally is the market and the list at that moment and in that time that is making the decision about whether or not you're getting published.

Andrea:            Totally. And I say that in A Map For Wild Hearts too. There's a thin line between knowing when critique is valid and when you have to trust your own gut on something. And for me that was the line. If I had had editors saying, you know this part needs work, this doesn't make sense. If I had found some common threads, some common ground between all of what my agent was saying and critique partners and editors, then I would have really taken that to heart. There was no common thread and it was a marketing department decision for me that just meant well then I'll market it. Like, I'll do it.

Mindy:             Right. Absolutely. You know your audience and you know how and who to market it to. So strike out on your own for sure. And I like to what you're saying about how you had to take your own medicine, essentially you had to go and do the thing that you have been telling people to do for a long time and make that leap.

Andrea:            For sure. And I'm not going to lie, it was, it is and was super scary, but I am so glad that I've done it. So my advice to anybody trying to make anything is you go and you do it and try not to think about what other people are doing and just listen to your own true voice on it. And it might end up with an agent or it might end up with a publisher or you might be indie publishing it or you might lose passion for it and put it in a drawer. And you have to be okay with all of those results. You know how publishing is. You just don't know what's going to happen.

Mindy:             Oh, you don't. And it's entirely out of your control, which is freeing once you managed to embrace that.

Mindy:             Lastly, writing through chronic pain, illness, depression, and where to find Andrea online.

Mindy:             One of my most popular episodes on this podcast is with Hillary Jastram who is the CEO of SickBiz and she deals with chronic pain herself while being a creative. And so her episode about mental illness and depression and dealing with chronic pain while being a creative is my most downloaded episode. So in A Map for Wild Hearts is chronic pain, depression or mental illness something that you address as a block, as something that is getting in the way of the creative process for your readers?


Andrea:            Oh heck yes. I am depressed and I also have generalized anxiety disorder and if you believe it or not, for all of my loving being around people, I also have social anxieties. And I have worked with different therapists and medications my entire life. So I address that a lot and I'm honest about that a lot. I offer suggestions, but mostly I offer grace. I want people to feel, especially people who are chronically ill, to feel that they are witnessed and seen and heard and that there is another creative out there that is doing her best to make cool stuff everyday. But that sometimes I just can't make it either. And one thing that I have that I think is helpful for anyone dealing with chronic pain as a creative is at the end of each chapter I have a Make Your Map exercise so people can actually make a visual representation of their creative process. And then if that is too hard for them and they're, you know, just struggling to get through that, there's something called a mapping modification where it actually gives you visuals or suggestions so that you can just plug them right in their map and it kinda takes the burden of figuring something else out away from you. So I think it is also helpful if you're really, really struggling. There's another like stepping stone to help you get there.

Mindy:             You've mentioned the mapping concept a few times. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and how that process works?

Andrea:        Sure. It is so fun. Actually. I just had a workshop on it and online workshop for a Woman Unleashed and it was so much fun. I provide you with a pdf of map paper, but you can make your own. It's mostly just a blank sheet of paper with a little box in the corner for a key and then another box for a compass. So as we go through each chapter and we work from internal to external, we add little things to your map and we kind of think of the map as one project at a time. So if I'm working on finishing my novel, I try to make this map to represent what I'm going through and what my creative process is going to look like just for this project. Because as you know, things change with every book and piece that you write.

Andrea:            I have this map and in the compass section I might think of a theme I want to go towards or a message I want to send and I write it down on my map. And then as I'm going along, I think of typical obstacles that might get in my way before I finish this thing. And for me that looks different with every book that I write. So this last book I just finished. I was in too many things, coaching too many soccer things, taking kids to ballet, just I had way too much going on. So I wrote that in my key with a little extension bridge as my symbol for that. And then another obstacle I had lack of rest and I put a little angry grizzly bear in there for that. And so you may make a key of all of your obstacles that, that you can foresee coming up and you also make the key of the antidote for those obstacles.

Andrea:            So, over extension would be rest and not resting would also be rest. And then also community and socialization or I'm trying a creative art that isn't writing, to kind of refresh my brain. And you just make a path through the woods. I walk you through in more detail on the book. A lot of people like to use the maps when they finish as like a vision board so that they can tack it up on their corkboard or on their desk so they can keep it handy when they're feeling really stuck. And a lot of people alter them as they go along, like and they come other obstacles and they can brainstorm with friends about what the antidote might be. And it just kind of gives you a really realistic picture, a bird's eye view of what it's going to take out of you and that you also have solutions to those things that you might come across.

Mindy:             Very cool. So it is a literal map of the obstacles that you envision getting in your way to your goal and how you plan to circumvent them.

Andrea:            Yes, totally.

Mindy:             So cool. I love it. Last thing, what is up next for you and where can listeners find you online?

Andrea:        Oh my gosh. I feel like I have a million disjointed parts coming out next for me. I actually just finished my first YA in a really long time. It's called Black Bear Wild and it's about black bears that lumber into this town and are attacking the town and people because they are, they're starving from climate change, which is actually a real thing that's happening right now. And about a girl who is, her father is like a famous wildlife biologist and then her longtime boyfriend goes missing and they think it was a bear attack and she's got to figure out all this. So I'm really excited about that book. It's still in the editing phase with my agent though, so it'll be awhile until anything happens to that. But I'm super pumped that I went back to YA after a long hiatus there. And then I am also working on a graphic novel and it's called Heroes of the Oak and it's about, um, it's a Jumanji meets Stranger Things mashup, which is really fun. I'm just doing my retreats and I'm doing some workshops. I'm doing one in New York City in October. And you can find me online on my website. It's just my name. It's and I'm on all the socials at andeehannah.

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Writing Memoir Through the Veil of Fiction with Melanie Thorne

Today’s guest is Melanie Thorne, who earned her MA in Creative Writing from the University of California, Davis, where she worked with Pam Houston and Lynn Freed. Her thesis there was the first draft of what later became her debut novel, Hand Me Down which has been widely praised. Melanie joined me today to talk about presenting a memoir through the veil of fiction, and how the reading audience sometimes gets a thrill out of the consumption of another’s pain.