When Officer Rose Brighton chased a suspect down an alley in Birmingham, Alabama, she had no idea the next few minutes would land her in the middle of every cop’s nightmare—looking down at the body of someone she shot . . . in the back. He’s dead and she’s alive, and now she has to explain it, which is going to be a problem because what happened was so strange, she doesn’t understand it herself. It challenged her definition of reality and her conception of who she was. In the next few days, she would learn that she was a witch of one of three ancient Houses, the prey of one and the pawn of another.
Let’s get something straight—this happens in my new novel, and I’m a retired police captain, but I’m not a witch . . . at least on my good days.
I don’t remember who first said this about writing, but the words have stuck and provide comfort during those days where plots are elusive and the end of the writing tunnel is dark—“You never know what a story is really about until you finish it.”
Does that sound odd? I think most people have the concept that a writer knows what she’s doing from the get-go. I’ll be honest, when it hit me that I wanted to write about a police woman who finds herself in the above situation, I had no idea what the story would entail or where I was going with it.
For me, writing—and reading for that matter—is about the character. I will never forget Harry Potter, Paul Atreides, and Bilbo Baggins, but I’d be challenged to recall all the things that happened to them. Both of the women in my previous novels—Noah’s Wife and Angels at the Gate were so real to me, I went into a little funk when I finished their stories. I missed their voices. Rose was the same way. It felt as if she wrote her own story. I was a side-kick figuring out what kind of trouble to put her in, but she responded on her own.
The sensation of being co-pilot is not limited to writing. An athlete feels it when she is “in the groove” or “in the zone,” where all cylinders are firing and she is so focused, she can’t miss a shot. An artist feels it, lost in her project. It happens in all our endeavors where we are truly engaged. Time warps. Hours feel like minutes. This is a real physiological state, as measured by fMRI (functional MRI scans) where the resources of the brain are so dedicated to whatever we are doing, there’s not enough processing power in the conscious mind to deal with things like perception of time, discomfort, anxiety, or energy levels.
As I wrote in “3 Steps to Engage the Secret Smartest Part of Your Brain,” our conscious minds are infantile in terms of processing ability compared to our subconscious, what I term our “deep intelligence.” It’s our common perception that our conscious mind (the “I”) generates thoughts. Science, however, is discovering that is an illusion. Thoughts arise from different modules of the brain before they register in the area associated with consciousness.
This is a little unsettling. If “I” am not thinking thoughts, who is? Like Rose, this fact challenges our conception of reality and who we think we are. The conscious mind evolved, at least in part, out of a need to conceptualize the future and make a plan, so it does have some control functions. What consciousness actually is and how it works, however, is still one of the mysteries of existence. But science is pecking away at it. (Both of these great books talk about consciousness, how it evolved and what we know about it: Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Enlightenment by Robert Wright and The Big Picture: On the origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself by Sean Carroll.)
So science may actually support the statement that we writers don’t know what we’ve written until it is finished. Perhaps the same can be said of our lives, although that is a scary thought. When I think about what my life has meant and what I have touched that might endure beyond me, I flash to my children and my books. I hope there are more ways I will have left the world a little better, but those two things are more than likely what I will think about when I am taking my last breaths. So what I’m writing about means something.
I’ve just finished the third book in Rose’s trilogy. I thought I was writing a fun, intense story about a cop in a deep South city—about murder, mayhem, and a little magic. But stepping back, I realize there is more. As someone who discovers she is “different,” Rose has the opportunity to explore just what being human means, what we are capable of—the darkness and the light.
Maybe that is what all books are ultimately about. Maybe that is what life is about.
House of Rose is now available for preorder at online retailers and from bookstores. If you would like a to write a review, send me an email at email@example.com
You can read a short excerpt at The Stilletto Gang where I post on the 4th Fridays with a group of terrific writers.
You are also, of course, invited to the book launch party!
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