Linda Lucretia Shuler can’t remember when she didn’t love to tell stories; they’ve rattled around in her thoughts, demanding attention, since she was old enough to scribble with a pencil. It’s a part of her, like breathing, like dreaming. It simply is.
Ms. Shuler published poems and short stories in literary journals while planning to begin a novel “someday soon.” But life has an odd way of taking unexpected turns. 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. She’s here today to talk about her debut literary novel, Hidden Shadows.
Congratulations on the release of your debut novel, Hidden Shadows. When did you start writing and what got you into the literary genre?
I began writing when I was around six or so, with a story called Jo Jo the Monkey. I have it still, tucked in a drawer somewhere. I published my first poem a couple of years later about a dappled pony. I don’t think I had ever seen one; I simply liked the word “dappled pony,” and so conjured a picture of it in my mind. Umpteen years passed, published poems and stories came and went, until at long last I wrote my first novel, Hidden Shadows.
Hidden Shadows is a conglomerate of genres: literary, romance, mystery, with a dash of magical realism tossed in for good measure. I didn’t have a specific genre in mind; I simply wrote was in my heart and imagination, letting the words come as they might, letting the characters breathe and move and speak as they would. It was always a surprise to me, the way the plot twisted or turned, sometimes as if on its own volition, as if everything written on those pages came from a source other than my own.
What is your book about?
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, most of all, it’s a story affirming the redemptive power of love.
What was your inspiration for it?
I’ve met remarkable women 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? And I’ve 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 HiddenShadows. 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.
What type of challenges did you face while writing this book?
Because I let the characters lead the way, like an over-permissive mother, they had a tendency to wander, to explore this pathway or that, or just sit in a corner and pout. I had to ask myself many a time, especially in the beginning, “Where the heck is this story going?” I veered into side paths and bumped into dead ends before finally, at long last, settling us all on the right path.
I didn’t pre-plan; the plot was a vague, misty map in my mind. I knew the destination, but wasn’t exactly sure how to get there. As a result, I ended up tossing a lot into the trashcan, words upon words, page after page, bye-bye. The map finally came into focus, the direction clear, the steps taken. But I swear, cross my heart, that the next book (a prequel to Hidden Shadows) will be more carefully mapped before I begin the journey.
What do you do when your muse refuses to collaborate?
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!”
How do you keep your narrative exciting?
If I’m excited about what I’m writing, the narrative is usually exciting. If I’m bored, uncertain, stressed, or otherwise in a rut, the narrative reflects that, too.
Each one of us must find the approach that works best for our nature and genre. For me, I try to immerse myself in the moment, to put myself into the scene – to experience sight, sound, smell, touch as if I were truly there, right there, that very second. Sometimes I view scenes behind my eyes as if I were watching a film, with my characters the actors (including close-ups) speaking and moving within a particular setting. I want to meld with these characters, to see through their eyes, to think and feel through the filter of their minds and hearts.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to right. Can you relate to this?
Absolutely! “Vague anxiety” happens to every creative person, especially those of us in the arts – which includes the written word. It’s sort of like stage fright, a momentary self-doubt that can paralyze.
An actor may freeze offstage, but his fright disappears the moment he steps onstage and focuses on the character. It’s the same for a writer: if we lose ourselves in the act of writing rather than worrying about how it will be received, anxiety dissipates. But if we worry about how our writing will be received, our creativity is stifled, our voice smothered.
Where is your book available?
The ebook version of Hidden Shadows is available for purchase from Amazon Kindle, Apple iBookstore, BN Nook, Kobo Books, OmniLit, etc.
The print version of Hidden Shadows will be available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble Bookstores, Brodart, Coutts, Davis-Kidd Booksellers, Emery-Pratt, Follett, Ingram, The Book Despository, The Book House, etc.
Purchase links will be available on the chapter excerpt page: http://www.twilighttimesbooks.com/HiddenShadows_ch1.html
What is your advice for aspiring authors?
As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet: “This above all: to thine own self be true”
In other words, believe in yourself. Write from your own unique heart and mind and muse. Find your voice, and trust it. If you write from an inner truth, it will be true to the reader, and so believable – no matter the genre, no matter the style.