By all outward appearances, I'm a WYSIWYG person—you know, What You See Is What You Get. I cry when I'm sad, laugh when I'm happy, and frown when I'm angry. In short, card sharks would be happy to be seated across from me at a poker table! At least that's the "me" known to casual friends and acquaintances. To those people, I appear to be lighthearted, quick to joke, quick to laugh, usually polite and even-tempered. That's the public me. Many of them have never met the writer me.
The writer me is someone whose thoughts are rarely shared and never vocalized in polite society. The writer me sees something in my neighborhood or in the news, reads something in the paper, and breaks that event down into components—setting, characters, actions, motives, emotions—and analyzes each. How would it feel to be in that situation? What would I do? How would it affect the rest of my life? What would a different character do, think, feel?
When in writer mode, I don't judge, I study, and many times I'm fascinated by what I find: lifestyles that might have been beyond my comprehension a day or two earlier, points of view I never would have considered. Over time, these revelations have helped me create characters that are far outside the realm of my everyday reality. Some of them share my personal values, but some do not. Some are nasty, just plain bad people who say really bad words and do really bad things, and that's what surprises casual friends and acquaintances most when they read my work.
They expect the writer Leah, and by association her characters, to sound and act like the person they know. They wouldn't be surprised at a flash of anger here or there, an occasion sneer of contempt, but they certainly wouldn't expect to find violence, foul language or, help me, graphic sex. Yet each of those elements has found a home in my writings at one time or another, sometimes all at once.
When I launched my debut novel this past summer, I was overwhelmed by the support and encouragement of so many. It humbled me, and worried me at the same time because I knew that some of the story elements would be distasteful to some in my group of friends. Surrender to Sanctuary is a romantic suspense about two FBI agents who go under cover in an adult (BDSM) club to solve a murder, and while the book is not erotica, some of the content might be more erotic than some can handle. So as I thanked my friends, I tried to warn them as well. "It's not what you'd expect," I'd say. "It's not politically correct. And it's gritty. So if you're looking for fluff, don't read my book!" Some of them paid attention, others didn't.
After the book's release, I'd typically get one of two reactions: Either, "OMG, you're an amazing writer! Loved, loved, loved the book!" or… "Leah! Leah! OMG Leah, how could you write this stuff?!" Naturally I'd bask in the first response. But that second? At first I wanted to run, to hide where no one could find me. I started asking myself, How could I write that stuff? Is something wrong with me? Is there some secret perversion hiding inside my soul, badgering to escape, to inflict itself on the unsuspecting populace around me? It got to the point where I stopped telling people about the book, the equivalent of the kiss of death to a writing career.
Luckily, after a while, that sense of shame got old. After a while I became annoyed with the tongue lashings from so many that "you're better than that." After a while, I'd had enough. Who the heck are you, I'd say in my imaginary response, to tell me what I can and can't write about? Who are you to tell me what is and isn't acceptable, what is and isn't good enough? True, the book has some gritty parts, but at its essence it is a love story, a story of self-sacrifice, a story of good vs. evil. And it's pure fiction.
I think that's when I truly became a writer at heart—the point where I got it. I'm telling a story, about imaginary people and events. I'm not writing my autobiography. I don't use that language (at least not too often), but my characters might. I certainly would never intentionally inflict bodily or emotional harm on the innocent, but my characters might. As for the graphic sex…hey, what goes on between two consenting adults is no one's business
So if you're aspiring to be "a writer," don't be afraid to let those demons loose. Don't be afraid to bare your soul. Don't be afraid to let your characters speak and act. Be true to the voice in your head. For every person who's shocked by your words, by the action taking place, there will be another who says, "OMG, you're an amazing writer. I loved, loved, loved the story!"
Happy reading, and writing!
Leah St. James
Leah's fascination with all things written began when she picked up her first Dr. Seuss book, and she has rarely been seen without a novel, or pen and paper, close at hand since. She enjoys delving into the deepest of human emotions—love and hate, bravery and cowardice, joy and despair—and how we, as human beings, relate to each other. Her greatest hope is to touch her readers' hearts and help them experience the joy that only love can bring.
Married with two grown sons, Leah is a native of the beautiful Central Jersey Shore but now enjoys the peace and quiet of Virginia's Hampton Roads.
Visit Leah at www.leahstjames.com
Leah's debut novel, Surrender to Sanctuary, is available at The Wild Rose Press, amazon.com, and other on-line book sellers. For more information about Leah and her writing, please visit her at http://www.leahstjames.com.