Writing Superheroes: Linda Shuler

Her super powers were bestowed by rain fairy angels. Read on and find out more…

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According to Wikipedia, ‘a superhero is a type of heroic character possessing extraordinary talents, supernatural phenomena, or superhuman powers and is dedicated to a moral goal or protecting the public.’ Sounds like a writer to me!

Join me as another one of these unsung superheroes invites into their personal ‘batcave’.

If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing, what would be the most important scenes? What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?

 I popped into this world with the urge to tell stories. I wrote my first as soon as I learned how to  hold a pencil and more or less spell. Maybe I was five or so. I still have it, tucked away in a drawer somewhere: Koko the Monkey. I’d never seen a monkey, so created one in my imagination – a lively character with red eyes and a charming, toothy smile.

Hidden Shadows is my debut novel, written after I retired from a career in theater as a teacher, director, and actor. I confess to hiding a few early (and often ridiculous) literary efforts. The memory of one in particular gives me the shudders: a rather lusty, no-hold-barred (or should I say “bared”) romance novel. I even had an agent that loved it – and, believe me, I’m thrilled that he couldn’t sell the thing. I probably should throw it away, but I can’t do it. It would feel like drowning a pet or something. So I’ve erased all digital evidence, taped the manuscript in a box, and hidden it in the dim recesses of my closet. 

 

linda All superheroes have their mild-mannered secret identity. What is yours? I promise we won’t tell.

 I’m glad you won’t tell, because my mild-mannered secret identity resembles something akin to Whistler’s mother: a sweet, gray-hair-in-a-bun old lady with blue eyes (my real-life eyes are hopelessly brown), bedecked in something practical – such as an apron. Her loving manner is so warm and inviting, it’s nearly impossible for others to keep their secrets hidden; they’re compelled to spill the beans – dreams, fears, hopes, confessions: the silly and sad and bad mixed into a fermenting stew – into her understanding ears. The gist, of course, for future stories.

 

 Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?

My partners in crime are not earthly creatures, but those conjured from my muse. There are two of them: Yea-Linda, and Nay-Linda. Yea-Linda serves as the cheering squad, singing praises of greatness and talent and all good things to come, hallelujah! Nay-Linda is the opposite, nagging and criticizing and threatening hell fire and damnation (lousy work and awful reviews). These two muse entities are in constant battle, proof that writing can be an exhausting process.

 

Where do you get your superpowers from?

 My superpowers were endowed by rain paper-doll angel fairies. I know this sounds nuts, but it’s true. I was a wee girl, standing on tiptoe and looking out the window one morning as rain spattered the porch. I remember, clearly as if it had happened only moments ago, when the raindrops transformed into fairies shaped like cut-out paper dolls holding hands and dancing in a circle. I knew they were magical, knew that particular moment was special, and knew that I was blessed to have been given such a lovely thing.

All that’s happened in my life since then has lead me to believe that my superpowers – creative, imaginative, perceptive – were granted on that beautiful morning.

 

Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?

My secret lair is, unfortunately for those who hope to rob lairs, hidden within the confines of my brain. It can be accessed only through deep meditation, helped by consuming ample amounts of a particular red wine. I see the cliff first: soaring, rugged, wild, topped with a searing sky. Then the door into it appears – ancient, carved from the rock, embedded with cryptic symbols. It awaits my touch before opening, silent as a whisper. I walk inside as the door closes behind me. The room is boundless, filled with an unearthly warm light – and books. Shelves and shelves of books, shelves reaching up and up and up into the endless cave sky. Staircases wind hither and yon, if I should choose to wander. Or I can simply command, “Fly!” and my feet leave the ground as, ever so gently, I float wherever I choose.

But, oh the wonder! The books are from authors around the world since writing began, in velum or stone or pottery or paper. I can find those in languages so ancient modern humans can no longer read them. Yet all I need to do is hold the precious writing in my hands, say the magic words (please understand why I must keep that particular secret to myself), and behold! The words or symbols or pictographs transform into English print – although I do admit the alteration can sometimes result in an awkward, and often hilarious, contemporary translation.

But here’s the true wonder: By wishing so, and by reading a few of the precious words now held in my hands, I can be transported into the past. I can meet the author, and be a part of the life and world of that other, long-ago time. I can be transported eons, centuries, or simply a handful of years. All is possible.

So now you know my secret. I trust you to hold it close.

 

What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world saving form? How do you insure they are used only for good?

Since my superpowers were bestowed by rain fairy angels when I was a wonder-struck little girl, I strive to keep that same inner joy and view the world through the window of belief. The world can be transformed into something magical. The same is true for all those of us inhabiting it. We are what we create, after all. The imagined made concrete. Although we may find ourselves faced with challenges in this life, with sorrows and griefs too horrid to hold onto, that singular “thing” we have within ourselves – call it spirit, or soul, or whatever feels true – bestows upon us the ability to soar beyond troubles, to continue onward, to view the world through light rather than darkness.

This is what I tell myself. This is what keeps my superpowers strong. However, being far from perfect, I sometimes waver, and gloom lurks in the shadows. But practice makes perfect, as the old saying goes – and, like any truth, must be often repeated! So I gird myself for an interior battle, call to the image of the window and water fairy angels once again, and am refreshed.

 

Granted, you probably don’t get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?

I imagine my superhero self garbed in a mixture of  two distinctly different outfits: a fierce archangel with shining armor and sword, somehow combined with a rather pudgy-warm old lady in a housedress and comfy slippers. An odd mixture that depicts a warrior with a loving and generous heart.

 

What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges faced in your writing?

 I struggled a bit with this question until the answer came unbidden one night in the midst of a crazy dream. My kryptonite is a pair of rose-colored glasses. When my vision of the world begins to darken, when my thoughts get muddled in the clutter of events, I go to my secret place, don my special rose-tinted glasses, and all confusion is set aright.  

The most difficult challenge I face in my writing is the idiosyncrasy of my Muse. It’s ridiculously temperamental, sometimes demanding untold sacrifice of time and energy. When Muse avoids me, as it’s prone to do, I’ve tried luring it with promises of special treats such as a decadent dessert or, if desperate, a shopping spree. As a last resort, I’ve stooped to threats of murder – promising to crush every slip of paper I’ve written, toss it all into the trash, and never write ever again. That usually does the trick, and Muse tiptoes back – a bit pouty, perhaps, but there and willing nonetheless.

 

 What was the supervillain that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?

The supervillain that threatened to stop publication of Hidden Shadows was as old as time itself: the “Big C.”  I was wholly unaware of its dark presence, so cleverly had it hidden in the shadows of my body. I was in the midst of a pre-publication frenzy before the cancer finally made itself known. Then everything in my life came to an abrupt stop.

Gifted physicians, chemotherapy, a loving family, and my guardian angels helped vanquish this ancient enemy. My supportive publisher, Lida Quillen of Twilight Times Books, allowed me to work when and how I could, until Hidden Shadows was eventually released. Delayed, but done.

So, as the Bard would say, “All’s well that ends well.”

 

What important lessons have you learned along the way? What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way? If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?

The most important lesson I learned was hard-earned: Believe in yourself. Heed your inner voice, and don’t fear to follow its call. This ancient truth is within us all, if we allow ourselves to hear it. Our creative self is spirt-given, part of who we are. We have only to trust it.

My most memorable experiences along the way involved the amazement of how the story began to follow its own path, as if driven by an inner voice. The characters, once faint shadows of the imagination, eventually took concrete form in my thoughts and became real to me; I’d carry on long conversations with them as the novel progressed. Had a stranger appeared unannounced in my study and heard me chatting or arguing at seemingly nothing but an empty chair, I likely would’ve been diagnosed as a nut.

If I could do this differently I’d try to outline more, plan this and that, make little graphs and so on. But, knowing the nature of my muse, and the proclivity of human nature, I’d likely lay out a plan with good intentions, only to eventually cry, “What the heck, let `er rip and go with the flow!” So, in truth, I’d probably not change a thing.

 

What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why?

 The advice that has most affected me was voiced in Shakespeare’s Hamlet ages ago:  “This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any man.”

This advice has guided not only my writing, but my actions. I strive to follow.

 

Tell us about your new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.

Hidden Shadows revolves around Cassie Brighton, a woman overwhelmed by loss. Devastated by the accidental death of her husband, she flees to a remote homestead deep 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.

A personal reflection: The reason I felt compelled to write Hidden Shadows came, in part, from 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? 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.

Hidden Shadows is connected to me in every way. I’m there on each page, each word. Memories, fears, joys. Dreams. Sorrows, too. Things seen or unseen. The land, the house. Bits of my past, pieces of myself scattered about. Sometimes I feel I have an invisible twin, an “other self,” living another life somehow joined to mine. She takes me by the hand and leads me through every element of the story, making it real, alive in my mind and heart.

I’m happy to report that Hidden Shadows has received over a dozen literary awards to date.

 

What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?

 I’m in the planning stages of a two-book series, an historical fiction still in the rough “what if…” stages. As for the future, life has always surprised me. I’m lucky to be here on this earth, and so am taking it a day at a time. I don’t know what the future holds, but suspect it’s going to be something wonderful.

 

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