It isn’t easy to expose your heart, but the rewards far outweigh the risks. Let me say up-front, there’s nothing wrong with writing to entertain, to allow readers to escape their lives for a while. That’s not what I’m saying at all.
For me, I wanted more. I write to touch lives. I write to make a difference. The latter of which compelled me to write Unnatural Mayhem, my new psychological thriller. The underlying message—the pulse, if you will—strikes at the core of who I am, what I care about, and who I aim to protect. Writing this story required me to peel back even more layers of my heart and soul. I thought, if that’s what I had to do, then so be it. I set out to write a book that matters, a book that could help protect the voiceless, the most innocent among us.
Here’s a snippet:
Imagine a world without animals? No pattering of paws, no wingbeats, no singing in the treetops, no howls at the moon, no buzzing in flower blossoms, no slithering through garden beds, no sympathetic eyes begging for a treat, no unconditional love or companionship, and the oceans, ponds, and lakes devoid of life. The Natural World as we know it would forever be silenced. For eternity.
That passage still kills me, because I can’t even fathom living in a world without animals. I don’t know about you, but that’s not a world I want any part of. Yet here we are, with numerous species on the brink of extinction.
Writing about subject matters you’re passionate about doesn’t mean slamming your reader over the head with your message. Your passion may influence the story, but we must let readers come to their own conclusions in their own time, even if those conclusions differ from ours. Hence why the story needs a compelling plot, or all the passion and heart you infuse into the story won’t make a dang bit of difference.
In Unnatural Mayhem, I focused on the trophy hunting of crows as a starting point for where I’m taking the series. I don’t need to remind you of my undying love for crows, right? Needless to say, the quest shredded my soul, but it also drove my characters through a complicated maze to stop this senseless killing—by any means necessary—before one black feather hit the earth, my passion and their passion intermingled on such a deep, personal level.
Writing about subjects you’re passionate about is also spiritually fulfilling. When I finished Unnatural Mayhem, a wave of accomplishment washed over me, like I’d written the right story at the right time to effect change, and destiny tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Well done.” Like I was always meant to write this story. Like I was always meant to take my Mayhem Series in this direction. Fate.
Have you ever felt this?
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when writing about subjects you’re passionate about:
#1: Find a subject you’re passionate about. Construct the plot around it. Create a cast of characters that would be most affected by it. In my case, I already had the perfect characters to tell this story.
#2: For hot button issues, like trophy hunting and poaching, you need to decide what to show the reader and what to leave out. No one likes dead animals in books. Most of all, me! The trick is to find ways to tiptoe around obvious triggers while still remaining true to the story.
#3: Balance and forethought are key. For every emotional, spiritual, or suspenseful scene, I balanced with some of the most hilarious scenes I’ve ever written. That balance gives the reader time to breathe and makes the book more enjoyable. ARC readers tell me they experienced all the feels, from heartbreak to joy and every emotion in between.
#4: The ending always matters, but it becomes even more important when writing about subjects you’re passionate about. We can’t leave the reader heartbroken. What fun is that? If we leave them uplifted, they’ll look forward to the next book in the series.
#5: When your emotions are tangled up in your characters, let the words just flow. Don’t worry about editing, word choice, or sentence structure. You’re in the zone, emotions spilling on the pages, fingers trying to keep up with your brain. Write first, edit later.
This is my last post of 2022. From my family to yours, Happy Holidays!
With the fate of the Natural World at stake, can a cat burglar, warrior, and Medicine Man stop trophy hunters before it’s too late?
Explosive news of a crow hunt rings out in the White Mountain Region of New Hampshire, and one hundred crows gather to put an end to it. With so many lives at stake — including Poe’s — Shawnee and Mayhem must work together to stop the trophy hunters before they obliterate the local murder.
Taking on twenty-five experienced hunters armed with shotguns is no small feat. If they fail, Poe may lead his brethren to their death.
No matter what it takes, this group must be stopped. But what if Shawnee and Mayhem aren’t seeing the full picture? What if these men have secrets worth killing over?
Unnatural Mayhem is on preorder for $1.49. Releases tomorrow (Dec. 13, 2022).
Merry Christmas to you and yours, Sue. Best of luck with Unnatural Mayhem! Have a great week.
Thanks, Joe! Merry Christmas, SJ! Kiss that beautiful family of yours for me. xo
A very special Christmas to you and yours, too.
I tell people who ask that Pride’s Children, the complete trilogy, was vouchsafed to me in 2000, all in one piece, beginning to end, and I’ve been trying to do it justice every since, so yes – passion project. There was that pesky ‘learn to write well part’ that had to be tackled. I’ve always loved the ending – and it will be interesting when I finally get to write the detailed scenes. The endings to the first two books were a minor version of the same.
Getting into the characters’ heads (one per scene), channeling the characters, is the best part of writing – in the zone.
Good luck with your launch!
“Vouchsafed to me.” Love that, Alicia. That’s exactly what I feel.
Sue, eagerly waiting for Unnatural Mayhem to arrive on my Kindle tomorrow. Congratulations and wishing you a great launch!
My passion book was Flight to Forever. The story was inspired by the plight of a couple who’ve been married 70 years who were forcibly separated by Covid restrictions. When the 90-year-old husband told me how he couldn’t see his wife, his eyes filled with tears and my heart broke for him. The book just poured out and became a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to your and your family, including the winged ones!
I loved FLIGHT TO FOREVER, Debbie. Your passion shined through!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your beautiful family, sweet friend. xo
Life’s too short to NOT write what you’re passionate about. I already have a day job with all its obligations, so there’s no need to make my writing a chore by not going after the things I want to write.
I feel the same way, Brenda. We really are kindred spirits. 😉
Wow, Sue, this is a terrific post.
I set out on the journey of writing my Mad River Magic series with the same passion. “I wanted more. I write to touch lives. I write to make a difference.” That’s what I want to do for young people, especially my grandchildren. I call that leaving a legacy.
Thanks for the five tips. Excellent! I love the name of your characters. The Shawnee were the Indians living in our area, and my wizard developed his magic spells based on the Shawnee language. We even have a writer living in our area who wrote a Shawnee Dictionary.
Thanks for the link to Unnatural Mayhem. I look forward to starting the book tomorrow.
Happy Holidays to you and your family!!!
Love that your wizard developed magic spells based on the Shawnee language, Steve! Is the series available in paperback? My 9 y.o. granddaughter loves to read. They all do, but the others might be too young.
Actually, I’m gonna email you about signed copies…
doesn’t mean slamming your reader over the head with your message.
Exactly, Sue. (Current Hollywood take note.) True story: Producer Sam Goldwyn was listening to a studio screenwriter pitching an idea.
“Mr. Goldwyn, this is a wonderful opportunity to point out labor’s battle against capitalism. You have a chance here to bring a great message to the people.”
Goldwyn threw up his hands. “Messages, messages! From Western Union you get messages. From me you get pictures!”
And to your last point, I like to say: Write like you’re in love; edit like you’re in charge.
Happy launch day, Sue. See you in January.
Thanks, Jim. Wishing you and yours a wonderful Christmas and New Year!
Super congrats on your new release, Sue! Caw! BTW, I love the line “obliterate the murder”. My old mentor in the detective business gave me some advice about career progression. Fred said, “Chase your passion, not your pension.” I did, and it led me into the world of forensic DNA processing and that eventually led to passionate crime writing that started at four o’clock this morning. Christmas best to you and Bob, and if you can fit in a Zoom sometime over the holidays, I’m good for it.
Thanks, Garry! I always have time for you. Just finishing up Mayhem #6 and Christmas shopping, then I’m free to play for a few days. What a year. I need some downtime before I drop. 😉
Fantastic post, Sue! I love your advice on pouring your passion for a subject into a book. As a someone who loves crows too, your passion for saving them resonates. I’ve pre-ordered “Unnatural Mayhem” and look forward to reading it.
You give us great tips for writing our passion. I’ve never written a pure passion book, but I try and put my passions, at least some of them, into what I write, be it the importance of the family who raised you, or the found family you make with friends. The importance of remembering, as well as dreaming and imagining a better world.
The funny thing about passions for me is that they can manifest in very unexpected places. I wasn’t surprised I put my passions into The Empoweredseries, but have been a bit surprised about the falling into passion with my cozy mystery series. Perhaps I shouldn’t be, since it’s about libraries, where I spent over three decades working.
This is the perfect post to close out your KZB 2022. Thank you for all your posts and comment here. It truly makes a difference.
Have a wonderful holiday season, my friend!
Thanks so much, Dale! Channeling your passion into your cozy mystery sounds perfect. After all, you lived the life of a librarian. Passion does show up in unexpected places. Doesn’t matter if we’re writing hardboiled crime or a romcom. If we’re not passionate, our readers won’t be either.
I suspected you were a fellow crow lover! Wishing you and the fam a wonderful holiday season, sweet friend. xo
I included a short, open-ended piece titled The Last Librarian in my anthology. I also put libraries and librarians in Tenirax and Sail Away on My Silver Dream.
From The Last Librarian: . . . He stared upward, unseeing, at the ancient frescoes circling the rotunda high above. Twenty four volumes insulated his frail body from the night-cold marble floor: Bradbury beneath his snow-white head, Shakespeare beneath his feet. His blue-veined hands, now pale with death, gently held Wind In The Willows.
The demolition foreman fumbled at his belt and turned off the fusion generator outside. Silence filled the library for the last time, a requiem unsung . . .
I like to write about the law (because I love to research issues) – but I focus on people’s misunderstanding or misinterpretation of what a certain law is and how that misinformation leads to …
While the Main Character is an attorney, my secondary characters often end up in a mess of their own making. While yes the law allows you to do C and D, but somehow the character misses the fact you have to do A and B first.
I hope my readers never have to find out in their own life that there is a subtle AND vast difference between killing someone in self defense and killing someone while defending a third person (this scenario was not a mess of the character’s own making)
For me the passion is creating a story with real life implications – something that could (but hopefully wont) happen to anyone.
Love that, Michelle! I’m sure your passion shines through.
I’m a research nut, too. 😉
Great post, as always, Sue.
One reason I write mysteries is because they are about the search for the truth. That’s my passion.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family. Best wishes with Unnatural Mayhem!
Thanks, Kay! We share the “search for truth” passion. 🙂
Happy Holidays to you and yours, as well!
I remember something akin to Goldwyn’s maxim, JSB. Don’t know where I found it but it said “Just tell the story. If you want to send a message go to Western Union.” It’s on a postit note about a foot above my monitor.
To rekindle the passion I find it good to affirm:
why do I want to write?
what am I willing to give up to do this thing?
what do I get from it?
what are my inspirations?
where do my ideas come from?
how do I deal with disappointment and failure?
I do not think my stories will change the world, but there is always the possibility that someone somewhere will read one, pause, think a minute and say “Yeah. That could have happened.”
That was what Ernie H. more or less said about the test of a good story.
And therein lies the passion for me at least, to tell a well built tight story that a reader can identify with even if it is just to put the book or magazine down and say “That moved me.”
And the thing is, when that idea of the real comes along out of the blue there’s no doubt, I grab it and hang on. That for me is the eight ball in the side pocket.
For me the last quarter of the year is the best time, with themes of harvest and renewal and reconciliation and hope for the future. The crop is in the bin, the woodshed is full of split logs, and it doesn’t matter if it snows up to the eaves if you have a well stocked larder and good companions.
It’s also when I think about my high church Episcopalian roots and how lovely Midnight Mass is and how I miss my parents and sister Annie.
For them, I think I will put on my headphones and listen to Handel’s Messiah as was the custom in our home on Christmas when we were little ones.
Holiday blessings to all of my teachers here on TKZ, and I will pray for the good people of Ukraine and our soldiers, sailors and airmen and women wherever they serve.
The heart of all stories — theme — share some sort of message, whether it’s intentional or not.
I agree about the last quarter of the year. It’s a melancholy time. Happy Holiday to you and yours, Robert.
If you’re not passionate about your work, it will show. “I write to touch lives. I write to make a difference.” That’s why I write, too, Sue.
Merry Christmas–see you next year!
Gremlins are in the system again…got the dreaded Too Many Attempts message…
Merry Christmas, Patricia!
Yeah, I keep getting the same message. I’ll email our tech wiz.