Linda Lucretia Shuler wrote her first story when she was around six or so, Koko the Monkey, which is still tucked into a drawer somewhere. Her first published work was a poem she wrote in the third grade about a dappled pony; she’d never seen one, but conjured up something fanciful in her imagination. Since then poems and stories have appeared in anthologies and literary journals, and a handful of plays have been produced in schools and community theatres.
Ms. Shuler planned to begin a novel “someday soon.” But after receiving a BFA and MA in theatre, her career veered into teaching Theatre Arts, directing dozens of shows, and acting in community theaters. When she couldn’t resist the desire to write any longer, she retired early and focused on that “someday soon” novel – just a good deal later than originally intended. Hidden Shadows is the result.
She enjoys participating in writer critique groups and community theaters, and is an award-winning member of Toastmasters International. She’s also an enthusiastic fan of the San Antonio basketball team, the Spurs.
Cassie Brighton, devastated by the accidental death of her husband, flees to a remote homestead in the rugged Texas Hill Country. Alone in a ramshackle farmhouse steeped in family secrets, Cassie wages a battle of mind and heart as she struggles to overcome the sorrows of her past, begin anew, and confront the possibility of finding love again.
Welcome to BloggerNews, Linda! Tell us a bit about your debut novel, and what inspired you to write such a story.
Hidden Shadows is a story of healing, of finding strength amid adversity, of allowing the sorrows of our past to guide us toward a brighter future. It also illuminates how grief, if allowed to fester, can corrupt the human spirit. This is a story of connection: to the land, to our ancestors, to others, to ourselves – and to the redemptive power of love.
I was inspired to write such a story because of the remarkable women I’ve met who suffered incalculable loss, and yet somehow survived and lived each day with joy. I marveled at them, at their courage, their spirit. And I asked myself, “How?” What did they endure in private, what interior battles did they wage? What dwelled in their spirit that made them victorious over such sorrow? I’ve also met those who did not endure, those who forever walked in the shadows of grief. And I asked myself, “Why?” Why do some souls shatter under the weight of it, while others survive? Because I’ve experienced grief myself – who hasn’t as the years collect? It’s part and parcel of life – the need to write about it must have been there, lurking inside me, silent.
But the lure of landscape led me, too. I traveled through the thirteen-mile stretch of an isolated, rugged, glorious stretch of Texas Hill Country called Willow City Loop. And I fell in love with the place, with its craggy, impossible hills and winding country roads. And I fell in love with old houses, too – the sort that are scattered throughout the small towns of Texas, sporting wrap-around porches with swings or rocking chairs, and a weathered “come on in” look.
These elements were, in a small way, inspiration for Hidden Shadows. But there’s more, so much more. I could write pages. Some of it is unknown to me, odd as that may sound. That secret part of ourselves that reveals itself as we write.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
I had a vague outline in mind – well, sort of. In truth, the characters took me by the hand and led the way. Therein lies the problem: the characters had minds of their own and often ran in all sorts of directions, dragging me along with them. I got lost sometimes, as did they. I often asked, “Where the heck am I? Where am I going?” I tossed page after page in the trash, deleted scenes, argued with myself, fussed at the characters. Eventually it all came into focus; the characters began to behave and work as a team, the puzzle pieces of the plot fit into place, the story took on life and purpose.
I vowed to myself afterward that from now on I’ll know where I’m heading and how to get there before I put a single word on paper. But I know that’s not likely to happen, especially if Muse takes over and the story suddenly veers in exciting, unexpected directions.
What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?
Why not both? Every word, every theme, every action and character and so on in Hidden Shadows came from within me, a joining of experience and imagination. We are kin, writers and the characters we create and the stories that evolve with them. Emotions are universal, although experiences and circumstances may differ.
Even though Hemingway wrote from experiencebefore writing, he still had to re-imagine himself in the character he created, to put himself fully into the scene, to visualize each moment as his words filled the pages. So how are we to separate “experience” from “fantasy” when they work side by side?
I’m not advising that we write about something of which we know little – especially without extensive research. For example, my next novel, a prequel to Hidden Shadows, takes place in the 1800’s. I’m researching the period and so on, to get a better understanding of how life was “way back when.” But once I’m bolstered with facts, I can then begin to imagine.
Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?
Muse is a tricky thing attached to the dreaded noun, work. If I feel like working, Muse is usually right there, sitting on my shoulder. If don’t feel like working, Muse goes on vacation. When that happens, there are a couple of ploys I use:
#1: Bribe it. “Okay,” I say to Muse, “I’ll sit down for just a few hours. If I really, truly concentrate I’ll treat myself to ________” (Fill in the blank.) The trick is that once I get started, Muse is fooled into joining me, and before we know it, the hours and words fly by. However, I must be sure to fulfill that promise of a treat, or Muse will remember I didn’t keep my word, and be reluctant to play if I try this approach again.
#2: Lure it. I tidy up my working space, sharpen a new pencil or two, light a fragrant candle, place something pretty nearby (usually a favorite figurine, as a small turquoise “good luck” bear). Then I say to myself, “Oh, how nice, how inviting,” and I sit down to work with a smile. Muse usually ends up there, too.
#3: Ignore it. Sometimes I find it helps to go on a mini-vacation: stroll through a park setting or somewhere inviting, eat at an outdoor café, perhaps go to a movie. Muse then grows impatient, nags in my ear, says, “You’ve had a breather so enough being lazy. Let’s get going!”
Describe your working environment.
I have an office I love, lined with custom shelves stuffed with books from top to bottom. Cozy, welcoming, a place that invites me to write. A painting of the Texas Hill Country hangs within sight, inspiring me to go there in my imagination, to stroll beside the wandering stream and among the hills, and walk amid the wildflowers. Pictures of my characters are strewn about on the desk or shelves, their eyes beseeching me to stop procrastinating and get to work. And photographs of my ancestors of long-ago, dandied up in old-fashioned outfits, smile at me from their frozen state in time. The nearby floor-to-ceiling window, squeezed between the bookshelves, overlooks a cluster of oak trees and a path winding among them. Birds are usually everywhere; squirrels, too. Sometimes, especially in the evening, I’ll spy a raccoon or possum or skunk. The light is perfect; the surroundings inviting. Now I just need to sit down and . . . write.
They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?
I smile in public, cry in private, and remind myself that the review is the opinion of a single individual.
It’s difficult for any writer to face criticism; our work is a deeply personal part of ourselves, the result of intense labor, often lasting years. The challenge is to consider the criticism objectively, determine what may be true, accept and learn from it, then discard the rest.
Do you have any unusual writing quirks?
I often talk aloud when I write, muttering at a particular stubborn element, laughing when something tickles my funny-bone, grumbling when something goes awry. I’ve wept, too – especially when a beloved character suffers.
One of my favorite quirks is to talk to a character, digging for clues, hoping to add depth. “What are you hiding from me?” I’ll ask. “What are you afraid of? What do you dream about? What do you desire above all else?” Often I’ll rail at a character for being obtuse, or at myself for flat dialogue or narrative.
In retrospect, I must sound like a batty recluse, mumbling to herself.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
I heard something in a Toastmaster speech I’ve never forgotten. “Just tell a story,” the speaker told the audience of fellow members. Simple, direct, true.
Whenever I get in a writing slump, or find myself reverting to purple prose, or worrying about style or impact or whatever, I remember that advice. Sometimes I whisper it like a calming mantra, “Just tell a story.” It helps me focus on what’s truly important, clear my mind of clutter, and begin afresh.