Fear Itself – A Guest Post by Skyla Dawn Cameron
Finally, the day has arrived. When Melissa, the tour organizer, first sent this to me on behalf of Skyla, I cried when I read it. I find this post deeply moving and personal. I’m so proud to host it here.
One of my favorite things about Skyla, as a writer, is that she is generous about talking about the writing process – what works for her, what helps her write more and better, etc. I think this post proves this. Without further ado:
Exhumed (Demons of Oblivion #4) was my last published novel and it was one that stayed with me for a long time afterward. That’s not particularly common with me: I usually write something and then let it go, especially after publication. But not this book.
I distinctly remember writing the opening scene (that takes place outside the main narrative) huddled over my PC keyboard. Shaking. Stomach churning. Crying. I had a few beers to loosen up, some liquid courage.
The one thing I didn’t do was flinch.
If I could impart any lesson to writers—aspiring and published—it’s this: you must go after the things you’re scared of.
The stories that make you uncomfortable. The decisions you don’t want you character to make. The horrible things you wouldn’t want to face. Every deep, dark fear you have, every insecurity, every weakness: this is what must be woven onto the page.
It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s utterly terrifying.
But I strongly believe the only way to write books that will leave a mark on readers—that have the POTENTIAL to stay with people—is to first cut yourself. Deep. To face the monsters under you bed, the things you want to turn away from.
This doesn’t mean it’ll stay with every reader, and it doesn’t mean every reader will like it. It doesn’t even mean the work will emotionally resonate with everyone. Also? It doesn’t mean, “Here, let me show you all of my issues in a thinly veiled autobiography.”
But it does mean that when you get that feeling while writing—a tightening in your chest, something uncomfortable wiggling through you, and the urge to step away from the keyboard—you must follow that fear and keep writing. Chase it. Confront it.
One of my most polarizing characters is also one of the most reader-beloved, the vampire Zara Lain from Bloodlines and Exhumed.
Bloodlines was first written in 2004 and Zara came from me realizing I was uncomfortable writing sex scenes and avoided them at all costs—along came a heroine who was the sluttiest slut that ever slutted, and instead of ignoring her, I dove in to let her objectify men and hit on people and slut around. People who know me insist that they hear me in her voice, which I understand, but she is one of the farthest characters from me personally—much of Zara makes me very uncomfortable. But guess what? A lot of readers connected with her. I never would’ve become a better writer without her.
Skyla’s Standard Fangirl Example For Everything: Look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer—when you ask fans what their favourite episodes are, high on the list you’ll find Hush and The Body. Hush came from Whedon deciding to NOT rely on dialogue because everyone said it was his strength; The Body, in addition to being a decidedly unflinching look at death, has a stark reality to it due in part to there being no music because, once again, someone suggested he just relied on music cues for emotion.
So then we have Exhumed. The book is about 99K words, and 75% of it is my tears.
I don’t know that anyone reacted to it the way I did—and only the people who know me very, very well would even start to guess what scared me in that book and why. And it’s okay if some readers don’t like it or don’t ‘get’ it.
But I know the only way they COULD connect with the book is by me facing everything dark, and ugly, and painful that came up, everything that had me trembling bone-deep just contemplating writing it. That place just past uncomfortable, where real terror is—that is your direction when navigating the writing of a novel. As long as you follow that compass point and stare wide-eyed, without flinching, once you reach your destination, you’ll have a chance of finding power.
Yes, there are some readers who want safe. And that’s valid, but they’re not my readers. Mine want ugliness and fear and brutality. And as long as I’m giving them that as honestly as I can, I’m doing my job.