*Leanna Ellis*, formerly known to readers as Leanna Wilson, sold more than one million romance books and won numerous awards before taking a new creative direction with her much-acclaimed 2007 novel, Elvis Takes a Back Seat. She makes her home in Texas with her husband and two children. More information can be found at www.leannaellis.com.
Whenever I write a novel, I’m usually asked what connection I have to the story or characters. Am I really writing about my own mother? About my best friend? My mother-in-law? Is there some secret connection with the story, some buried secret?
Well, here’s the truth: no and yes. I am not writing about my actual mother. Or my son’s teacher. Or the guy who cut me off in traffic yesterday. Then again, maybe I am.
Think of it this way: you are what you eat. Really. I’m that Diet Coke and bean burrito, strawberries, cantaloupe, even the chocolate chip cookie that I swiped from the kids’ lunchbox. Now, I don’t look like a metal can or a swathed bunch of beans and cheese. Or maybe I do. Maybe we don’t want to go there. But I think you get my point. Part of who we are, what we think and believe naturally filters through us and into our work.
I’ve been writing for twenty years, so here’s how it works: I write a proposal, a very short synopsis and a chapter or two (the shorter the better) and hopefully that proposal sells. If it does, then maybe six months or so after I conceive the idea, I’ve got to plan out that story a bit more carefully and begin writing it. Then I have a certain amount of time to write it and finish it and get it sent to my publisher. The end. Right? Wrong. Because it’s often after I write the story, do revisions and line edits and read galleys that I realize the story I’m writing isn’t really about a crazed mother-in-law moving in with her ex-daughter-in-law. Or a facelift gone bad. Or an ex-husband that won’t behave. Or a crazy labradoodle (yes, there’s one of those in FACELIFT too). It’s really about hope.
Now, I will admit that when I was writing FACELIFT I characterized the crazy labradoodle after my own, The Hilo Monster, and all of her crazy puppy antics—think MARLEY AND ME and more. Frankly, I needed a laugh and our puppy made me laugh, even when she was making me pull my hair out…or my glasses out of her mouth.
You see, when I sat down to write FACELIFT, my father had just passed away. I had to utilize all the professional skills I had garnered over the past twenty years to get that book written. Some days I could only write ‘Chapter five.’ Literally, two words. That was it. I tried not to berate myself and gave myself time. And eventually the words began to flow. But honestly, having gone through a difficult, painful experience gave me insights into the characters. Because FACELIFT wasn’t about a surgical procedure or getting your ex back or dealing with a teenage daughter or a crazed ex-mother-in-law. It was about finding hope and joy in spite of circumstances and situations.
So back to that original question: what’s my connection to the story? Hey, it’s fiction! But then again, that kernel of an idea and those weird, quirky characters came from my warped little brain and soft heart. They are a part of me. So sometimes the connection may not seem to be there at all. I haven’t had to go through a divorce. I don’t have a teenage daughter…yet. I don’t even have a mother-in-law. But the connections are much, much deeper.
I have been through difficulties. Sitting beside my father, holding his hand, waiting and watching that heart monitor as he took each breath, my own breath trapped in my throat, I understand heartache. The desire to stay in bed. How tears spring forth at odd times. How a dark cloud can descend and make it impossible to see sunshine or rainbows or hope of any color.
But just as my character Kaye learns that life is filled with choices. It’s a choice to get out of bed. It’s a choice to go for a walk rather than stare blankly at the TV screen. It’s a choice to smile. Trials and difficulties are going to come, getting through them isn’t easy but it is possible. I received my own internal facelift and the joy and peace that comes from the Father, the Almighty, who helped me to smile again. So whatever problem you’re going through, whatever trial or tribulation you are facing, it is a choice. Not in going through it. Not in the outcome. In your response. In my response. So, choose hope. Choose Christ. Choose to trust.