The tagline on my blog reads “developing a voice through writing.” The first thing I recognize after five years of blogging is that I have utterly failed.
“Voice” to writers has a unique meaning. It’s the development of a style, a way of using words that stands out and makes a writer or a character recognizable, distinct from the millions of others out there. That is no easy task.
It is not the task to which I refer in my tagline, however. I’m talking about a more fundamental, more primal concept of developing a voice, of being able to speak one’s thoughts, fears, hopes, and core truth. For many, this is the natural course of human development. A child starts speaking with a series of sounds that later become words. Words become sentences, and eventually the sentences deliver whole thoughts, which are used to express that child’s uniqueness. For some children, this process is blocked, disrupted, and they are unable to speak their thoughts or even develop as an individual.
Survivors of abuse know this struggle, recognize how difficult it is to learn to speak one’s truth. Abusers may overtly silence the voices of their victims through threats of what will happen to them, or those they love, if they tell anyone. Or more subtly, through whispers of shared secrets between abuser and victim that others must never know. Then there are oblique ways of silencing victims: family patterns of ignoring bruises, instantly pretending to be a happy family when a visitor shows up, or disallowing the expression of unique thought.
For some, developing a voice, the ability to speak out about one’s own thoughts, feelings, and experiences, comes much later in life, or sadly, not at all.
One of my motivations in writing my novels and in starting this blog was to give expression to parts of myself that have been silent for far too long. Creativity has breathed life into me. I feel alive when I work on my novels. I particularly love creating worlds: characters, places, languages, and magic. That’s why I am a fantasy writer. To me, it offers the broadest spectrum of creativity.
I also have a social conscience to my creative expression. I have a connection to victims and survivors because of my own history. I want to do something to change the world, at least one little piece at a time, so I talk about and expose modern day slavery. I try to educate others. I give a portion of each book sale to help survivors of domestic sex trafficking.
And yet… and yet… I still feel voiceless, or maybe my voice is just weak and raspy. I write under a pseudonym and have taken pains to be anonymous, and yet I’m still afraid to speak my mind or expose my truest self. Old patterns are hard to break. Survivors of abuse will recognize this truth. In unsafe environments, one learns to never trust. Don’t trust the person who promises to help you—they may betray you. Don’t trust a secret to anyone—they may expose you. Don’t trust that anyone will believe you—the consequences are too great if you are wrong.
Thirty plus years removed from abuse and still these beliefs hold me back. So I ask myself, what would I say if I weren’t afraid?
One of the first things that comes to mind is I want to rattle against labels thrust on me.
I am a person of deep faith writing in a genre where my literary peers tend to think people of faith are ignorant, narrow, and judgmental. I am a member of a religious tradition where my peers tend to think people who write fiction, especially fantasy, are wasting precious time and ought to focus on something of substance.
My husband is a pastor, which doubles the weirdness from both sides. I must really be extra-critical and small-minded in one side’s opinion, and ridiculously errant and missing my calling, which should more appropriately involve writing devotionals or at least inspirational stories, from the other side.
But here’s the rub, I can’t be what either side expects or wants me to be. I’m just me. With my history, I find it downright hilarious sometimes that I carry the label “pastor’s wife.” Don’t get me wrong. I’m a good person. I’m kind, generous, loving, but I’m not who I would have placed in this role. And trust me, there are always people around to make me feel inadequate and less than I ought to be. On the other hand, my faith is profoundly important to me and is at the core of who I am and what I do. I could no more deny the existence of God than I could deny my skin color. I would not be alive if it were not for God’s active presence and intervention in my life–I still don’t know how I got down from the ledge of that building when I was twenty. I also would not have the loving husband, four fine children, and six amazing grandchildren if not for the grace of God.
Am I narrow and judgmental, like the other side assumes? No. I am one of the least judgmental people I know. I would be the first to say that I have no right to throw stones at anyone. I have received mercy from many directions, and I will generously give mercy. I have a deeply compassionate heart and great empathy. How they developed, given my background, is a mystery all its own. I am also a strong advocate for social justice and do my best to be a global thinker. I reject the far-right evangelical political ideology. I don’t recognize the teachings of Jesus anywhere in their rhetoric. I am inclusive in my thinking, an advocate for the poor, empathetic to the plight of refugees, and believe strongly in fighting for racial and gender equality.
Am I missing my religious calling? Should I be writing devotionals and inspirational stories? In my mind, my dark fantasies are inspirational, but not in the way many religious people might use that term. I hope I inspire mercy, compassion, understanding, and action. I hope I encourage people to love each other in word and action. If, through my commitment to donate a dollar from each book sale to the Genesis Project, I can make a difference in one child’s life, to help them find freedom and healing from sex trafficking, I would feel my time and energy well spent.
I’ve been told that the healing journeys of my characters in The Innocence Cycle series have helped readers to find healing in their own lives. That just makes me smile. When I first started writing the series, it was just to put down on paper one scene that kept nagging at me. I had no idea all those words and characters and ideas were just begging to be released. I’ve completed four and am a third of the way through book five—and they are long novels. So many words! It’s hard to believe. The journey has been healing for me as well.
So that is what I would say if I were not afraid. My voice feels stronger already.