I remember the first time I heard those words directed at me. I stood at the podium after class, waiting in line to ask one of my favorite college English professors how I could improve my less than stellar paper.
I bit my lip and crossed my arms, swaying back and forth anxiously as he read my thesis. He wrote, “SO WHAT?” in big red letters next to my carefully wrought sentence. My heart sank deep into the pit of my stomach where all bad little creatures dwell—the dark hole that life fills up with every negative thought, action, or word.
My cheeks reddened, as he looked at me, emotionless.
“I don’t understand,” I managed to say, fighting back the disappointment I had in myself, the over-achiever, the people pleaser. I had always been the girl who sat in the first row, the one who read every assignment and had prepared my questions and comments before class. I wanted not just to impress my professors, but to genuinely learn more about my favorite subject and more about myself. I wanted to be the best me I could be. I still want that.
“Your thesis statement tells me what you’re going to talk about, but it doesn’t tell me why it’s important,” he said flatly like he had said it every day of his life (and probably had).
For the rest of the day, I pondered on the question. Why was what I had to say important? How would it affect readers, and why would they care?
That one question changed my whole writing life. Every word we type should have purpose and meaning that is far more than just story or entertainment. You've been given something amazing—the power to wield words and bend them to a purpose. That’s divine. In the beginning was the Word, after all.
Nothing speaks life or death into people more than words. They are powerful, and they can change everything.
Even in fiction.
Another professor told us, “Never write something that you don’t intend to keep forever. If it’s not impactful and something that makes you proud, then it’s not worth writing.” That was another statement that changed my academic career. I have every paper I’ve ever written. I gave each of them my all. Were they all stellar? No. Not even close, especially knowing what I do now. But were they all important? Yes. Every topic I chose from then on meant something to me, and I hoped it would mean something to whoever read them. I remember the first time I wrote, “So what?” on a paper a year or so after I graduated. I was helping a friend proof her graduate paper, which was fantastic but didn’t address that pivotal question. I struggled to type the words, remembering what a kick to my heart hearing them was for me. But I did it anyway, to love and help her more.
I’ve since asked that question boldly numerous times from friends to clients, and always, always to myself.
Our writing should mean something. Before you even type the words, it’s best to tackle that question head on.
The benefits of knowing so what:
1.) You’ll write with purpose, which will enrich your writing experience. 2.) You’ll know exactly who your market is. 3.) It’ll be easy to stay focused while writing.
Literature students aren’t the only ones who write about the “so what.” Agents do too. When an agent submits a proposal, they cover a variety of topics advocating your book. Perhaps the most important one they answer is why this book needs to be on the shelf. How does it add to the conversation of other books written on the topic? In essence, why this book?
As an indie author, it’s even more critical that I understand these foundational elements of my books because no one else is there to do it for me. I’m a one-woman team when it comes to their creation and their marketing. I need to know what need each book is trying to fulfill in my audience.
For example, my novel FABLED was written because I wanted an escape. I’ve always sensed that magic was present in real life—not the witchy type of magic most think about—but the kind that comes from a life full of adventure and experiences. That’s why I wrote about an average girl who finds herself in a world she only knew existed in books. I wrote that book for people like me—Modern Romantics as I sometimes call us. We want to believe something extraordinary is lurking around the corner, and for better or worse, we’re going to find out what it is.
RED RIBBONS was created to explore the strength and supernatural ability the love of family gives us. When we’re surrounded by people who build us up, who nourish and love us even at our worst, we can fearlessly stand against adversity. No evil can win when one has love, forgiveness, and a familial bond.
OF LOVE & LEGEND is a reminder that chivalry isn’t dead, but it’s hard to maintain. In legend, Arthur is often referred to as a Christ-like figure, but it is clear through story he wasn't perfect. He’s noble and good, but even he is flawed. Lovable, admirable, kind, but flawed. When the parallel is made between the modern man of today and King Arthur, it’s not difficult to see how work and duty often distract from love and marriage. Their legend is a warning to us all. Relationships take work, and sacrifices—sometimes devastating ones—will be made.
In my upcoming book, THE BUCCANEER BELLE, sisterly love covers a multitude of sins. The commitment to our loved ones will cause us to stop at nothing to save them.
The themes of these books can be boiled down to two essential cultural problems—busy lives and the need for escapism and broken families. The stats:
Last year, CNN reported that Americans spend 10 hours a day looking at a screen to include video games, television, tablet usage, computers, and cell phones. We are looking for an escape. Why? Because we’re surrounded by negativity—broken families, rising debts, troubled relationships, and longer hours of stressful work. Hence why we “Modern Romantics” escape into other worlds to find solace and the adventure and hope we seek. (FABLED)
According to the CDC, there has been an average of 800,000-850,000 divorces every year in the US in the past decade. Families are broken, which means there’s a need for hope in books and entertainment that show a strong family structure even if there’s a significant loss. (RED RIBBONS, OF LOVE & LEGEND, and THE BUCCANEER BELLE)
As writers, our goal is not only to understand the needs and motivations of our characters; we must also seek to do the same for our audience. Our readers’ experiences are directly attributed to how well we give them what they want and need.
Writing is an immortal reflection of the times we live in. We best serve [L]iterature, if we write with the realization that our words will some day be the literary history of an era. Are our books reflecting our culture’s problems, needs, wants, and collective character?
I've had the pleasure of listing one of my books in a couple of amazing giveaways this month. I love giving readers books whenever possible, and for a limited time, you can snag my YA fairy tale, FABLED, for free as well as many other great reads.
Summer Fantasy Giveaway has 50 FREE fantasy ebooks!
Fantasy Fix is giving away 19 FREE paranormal, urban, and contemporary fantasy books. Plus you can enter to win a Kindle!
Crazy runs thick in these veins. It’s woven amongst the thorns of a broken heart and rooted deep within this bittered soul. She told me, “You can be anything you want.” The reality – I’d become her. Slowly, with every passing moment, my spirit entwines itself with hers. As I stare at her grave, I’m not afraid of the death that surely awaits, but I’m terrified of the dash that summarizes the entirety of her life. One linear motion of lunacy that put her here beneath my feet. “I’ll join you soon, Mama.”
A loveless marriage. A monstrous husband. A defiant hope.
One woman's struggle to cope with a female's role in society and the expectations that come with it.
Can hate breed love?
I'm not sure which type of cold pierced my soul deeper—winter's brutal breath on the lonely London street or the remnant sting of his words. Even their great Queen Victoria had her love story, a romance amidst her stately obligations. I hadn't planned to travel through the Atlantic portal and simply be plopped into a wretched place of utter misery. Without my family, a few friendly acquaintances, and the warmth only a familial home can provide, I feared I'd freeze to death in his bitter cold.
Marriage was supposed to be warm—a soft place to land when your heart is weary. Not mine. He wasn't concerned with the state of my heart or anything else for that matter. He expected a complacent fool of a wife. One who would sit pretty by a fire and meet his guests with kindness and silly laughter. He couldn't have known that I wouldn't be content with such an arrangement. I needed and enjoyed the incentive of deep conversation.
I read books about history, philosophy, and theology. I had actual knowledge and had been educated to the best of my father's potential, despite him getting socially slandered for wasting his hard-earned wealth on educating his daughter. All of this only afforded to me because the Women's College was located in our tiny southern town. My mother convinced him she'd take on more sewing jobs to help balance the costs. Of course, her menial income provided little more than the occasional meal in the school's dining hall. He didn't require this of her, of course. She offered it out of the depth of motherly love. No. My father believed in education for all his children, and since two of my brothers never returned from the war, it prompted more of an importance to educate his remaining two.
My brother, a university graduate and a commanding officer in the Army, is the epitome of a southern gentleman and is the apple of his new wife's eye. She damn near worships the ground he walks on, and I couldn't be happier he's found such a steady marriage and occupation there in Montgomery. Come to think of it, his doll of a wife is exactly what Hugh thought he was getting when he married me.
Daddy needed the two of us to be intellectually capable of being the bearers of the family's fortune, however small it had become.
What would he think of me now? Walking these strange streets in search of my own ghost. Leaving my husband to rot at the dining table with his own pathetic thoughts and me storming out of the house and closing the door so mercilessly that a whiff of air chased me down the stoop.
The stoop. That's where I belonged. A doormat to his feet. I felt my cheeks flush with anger, melting the fresh winter flakes that found their rest there.
"Mam," I heard her familiar voice.
I thought about turning around and facing her, but I wasn't ready to let the lady back into me yet. I clung to my rage and ran with it.
"My lady!" she screamed louder. The quickness of her footsteps increased to match mine. "Leave me," I answered her.
"You're making a scene."
It wasn't until then I realized the few people on the street glancing in my direction. What must they have thought? I stopped, understanding that my moment with fury was over. It was now time to reunite with who I was supposed to be—and worse—time to return to him.
I turned to face Martha, our maid. He had given me that liberty. I'd requested one when I first arrived, but it wasn't until months later he conceded. She was my relief most days—the only person who could reason with the fury beneath my smoldering façade. I hung my head, ashamed of myself for making her chase me down like a blasted child.
"I tried to let you go on, Mam, but it's just so bloody cold. I feared you'd catch the fever. And that would be terrible for a woman in your condition," she said while clasping her arm in mine and escorting me back to my cage.
I felt my stomach instinctively and tried to concentrate. Did I feel anything? Could life really be brought from such disgust? Wasn't it love and warmth that made things bloom? Apparently not. My growing bump was proof that even hate could create.
"What did he say about my leaving?" I ventured.
"I think I'd be wise not to put words in my master's mouth."
"You're mine, Martha. I'm the one who pressed for your employment, and I'm the one who needs you. Not him."
I desperately tried to prepare myself for what I'd find at home.
"He's unhappy. I think he's called for his mother to return." She looked down as if anticipating my reaction.
My spirit fell into the deepest darkest pit within me, making its bed next to our unborn child.
When we approached the steps, I clung to Martha. I took her hand in mine and nearly cried. I wished never to see those steps again.
We proceeded into the foyer.
"I'll fetch you some tea, Mam. You should warm by the fire."
I took off my coat and gloves, careful to be as quiet as possible. I could see his chair in the parlor, empty. He wasn't having his usual after-dinner brandy. I cautiously forced myself through the wooden sliders and into the sitting room, where I found the fire stoked and dancing rapidly. I pulled up my favorite armed chair and warmed myself.
Though he wasn't there, I could feel his oppressive presence woven into every fiber of the room. The tension hung heavy and made my heart thick with worry. The idea of his mother visiting again this month made me cringe. Every time he thought his grasp on me was slipping, he called her in to tighten the reigns. A fierce, wicked lady, she was. And he, her foul spawn.
"Here you are," Martha said sitting the tea on the mahogany table. "And this as well." She pulled a small writing pad from her apron and handed it to me."
"I purchased it for my son while at the market today, but I think you need it more. It's for your words. When you feel like running, run into it."
I ran my fingers across its rough pages and nearly cried. "But... I don't write."
"Beg your pardon, Mam. But I've seen your scribblings in the waste basket. I've read them, and it's my humble opinion that they're quite good. I thought maybe you might need a safer place to escape than the bitter streets. Forgive me if I'm wrong."
"Please sit with me." I gently tugged at her arm. I feared being alone, left to the mercy of silence and my own thoughts.
"Just for a moment," she said.
"Thank you, truly."
She felt sad for me. I saw it in her tired eyes. She—a forty-year-old widow with two children she could barely feed—felt sorry for me. My needs were met, and I wanted for nothing. Yet she gave me gifts. I searched her face, soft and wrinkled beyond her years. Do I really warrant your pity? I wanted to ask but sipped my tea instead. God, I am a wretched woman.
I focused my eyes on the fire and watched it sway seemingly to the quickened pounds of my heart. I sensed him drawing nearer, and when I heard his footsteps, I quickly took Martha's hand.
"Martha, will you excuse us?" His voice unnerved me entirely, and I nearly jumped from my chair. I squeeze her hand for comfort and momentarily refused to let go. I gave her a desperate look, in which she returned a sorrowful one and slipped away from me—from us. I nervously placed her gift on the table as he took her seat.
"Mrs. Meriwether, the neighbor, came to see about you," he said calmly.
"Is that so?" I tugged at my throat, having a hard time speaking.
"It is. I assured her that, despite the noise she heard, you were well. She insisted on seeing you for herself, and when I told her you were out, she scolded me for allowing a woman in such a fragile state to take a walk in this brutal weather." He tugged at his waistcoat, a habit he had when trying to calm his frustrations.
"Emma, you're behavior is utterly unacceptable. I simply will not have it."
My eyes met his—cold as ice.
"You must be responsible and learn to mother. Part of that is taking care until the child arrives. He needs a strong mother to carry him through the trials of childhood." He sat back in his chair, crossed his legs, and stared into the blaze.
The shadows danced across his features, and his graying temples glimmered in the light. Despite myself, I noticed how agreeable he looked. Handsome, even. If only he weren't him.
"I'll not take orders from your mother in my own house." I found myself again.
"You'll take them from me." He sat up, as if we were animals, stating his dominance.
I sipped my tea in defiance. My heart raced in rebellion, but I forced myself to breathe slowly, hoping he couldn't sense my fear.
"It's a she." I pressed him further.
"What?" he asked confused.
"The child. It's a girl." I clasped my stomach with my free hand.
"You can't be sure."
"I am certain. Look how she sits within me," I went on motioning my hand around my mid-region. "I've even tried the pendulum, and Providence told me."
In the midst of my demonstration, he slapped the tea from my hand. The cup landed in the fire. It's fine hand-painted surface smearing into nothingness. I looked up at him, bewildered.
"Don't you ever mention that this child is a girl again! It's a male. Possibly my only chance of one. You had bloody better be praying that God gives us a boy," his voice quivered. His cool eyes aflame with rage.
"Why must it be a boy?" I nearly whispered.
He ran his slender hand through his dark curls.
"No one is promised another day, Emma. I've strived my entire lifetime for this small fortune, and I need someone to manage it. Your father understood." He collapsed into the chair, defeated. "He has a fine son to carry his name. My brother died without an heir. There's no one else to carry ours." He stared at the now cracking cup.
For a moment, I felt tenderness toward him. Pity, almost. But then he spoke again.
"A good wife delivers healthy children. Male children. And she also knows how to behave. She has calm temperament..." he said, shaking his finger in reprobation, "She cares for her appearance, both physically and socially, so as not to be an embarrassment or hindrance to her husband. She's well mannered and never allows herself to be overcome with anger." He glared at me. "Be a good wife!"
"My father may have understood your need for an heir, but he never treated my mother nor myself like this. He would not be pleased with how you have treated me," I cried.
The mere thought of he and my father agreeing on anything revolted me, but for him to even occupy the idea that my papa would accept his behavior enraged me.
"I am a wife. I will bear you children, but only because I have no vote in the matter. This is not a marriage; it is enslavement!"
He forced his hand across my face.
I froze in astonishment. Tears welled and spilled down my cheeks. I touched my fingers to the swelling flesh.
"If you do not learn to do as I say, all your privileges will be reduced to nothing. You will bear me a son if I have to force a dozen children through you." His words hovered as he left the room. I sunk from my chair to the cold floor and allowed my sorrow to seep into every part of me.
I felt her flutter.
"Mam, are you alright? Please let me help you to your chair," Martha said coming to my aid.
"I hope she's a damned fool. A real wife—without tongue or intellect. One who knows only how to please and be pleasing." I tugged at my stomach. "Please God, make her a beautiful fool."
"Oh no, Mrs. Emma. May she be intelligent and divinely gifted like her mother. May she write words people will read for lifetimes to come. No, Mam. May she be beautiful, and may she only be foolish in love."
An unexpected friendship offers her broken heart a second chance at true love.
Blurb: One year after her husband is killed in action, Julie Ellis is back in her hometown and focused on raising her young son. Then Reagan Harrison bursts into her life—a cocky, charming linebacker who leaves her off balance. As a successful, professional athlete, Reagan believes he has it all. But after meeting Julie, he finds every excuse in the book to spend time with her. Despite his best efforts not to fall too hard, Reagan envisions a future with Julie, along with the little boy he’s come to love as his own. While Reagan’s protective love begins to mend Julie’s spirit, she can’t suppress her continued deep devotion to her late husband’s memory. And when a letter arrives from beyond the grave, Reagan resolves to provide her with the answers she desperately needs to heal. Now Julie must choose either to keep her heart closed off or remove the lock and fight for a future with Reagan. Can a second chance at true love be just as sweet?
“Thanks for understanding me.” Julie softly kissed his cheek. The rough stubble tickled her lips. “Even when I don’t understand myself.” She went to sit in her chair to finish her cup of coffee. At that moment, she noticed the kitchen. What anunbelievable mess! Who’d actually cooked breakfast…aclass of rowdy five-year-olds? She gave Reagan a sideways glance, to see him moving the last piece of waffle around his plate, collecting any remaining egg and syrup. “Did you use every bowl I own?” He was the messiest cook she’d ever seen. A huge pile of dirty dishes sat on the counter, covered in dried waffle batter and egg. Bits of syrup-laden crumbs dotted the kitchen floor, like a sticky breadcrumb trail. His smile held no hint of guilt, and he shrugged. “Nobody’s perfect.” No, not perfect—but he was pretty darn close.
"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference."— Elie Wiesel