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How to Embrace Your Dark Side Without Getting Lost

 

The-Devil
From the Ghetto Tarot by Alice Smeets.

I begin most days by drawing a tarot card. It's part of my spiritual practice to think about the current challenge or lesson and draw a card that, when it's all working well, gives me insight. One day last week, I drew The Devil.

This can be an alarming card to have pop up in a reading, thanks to the bad rap the hooved one gets in Christian-influenced culture. I'm many decades away from the colorful images of El Diablo that illustrated my Catholic children's bible, and it still gives me pause. These days, I see the world less in terms of good vs. evil and as more of a continuum. But The Devil in a one-card reading is cause to sit up and pay attention nonetheless.

The deck I currently use is the Ghetto Tarot, created by talented photographer Alice Smeets, who based it on the 1909 work of another artist, Pamela Colman-Smith. There's a lot to love about Ghetto Tarot. First, it's a photographic representation of each card in the traditional deck, of which most people are familiar, and set entirely in the Haitian ghetto. The images are stunning and powerful, showing how the themes in the traditional deck resonate well in a culture outside that tradition. Second, this deck uniquely embraces the darker side of the tarot. Smeets offers her argument:

We tend to concentrate on the light aspects of the seemingly more positive cards and are afraid of the apparently negative cards such as Death, the Devil, and the Tower ... That's because we are conditioned by our society, our parents, and our teachers to categorize the negative as bad, instead of helpful. Many of us fear pain instead of welcoming it. But every negative situation is an opportunity to grow and learn, while every positive situation has the potential to spin out of control.

The deck plays on "shadow" as well as "light," with each card in the deck possessing both sides. The Devil's shadow side can be "acting against your convictions." The "light" is "finding and accepting your dark side." 

Drawing The Devil would have been reason enough for me to mull over the idea of finding and accepting my dark side, but sometimes the Divine hits you over the head with things that seem to have extra importance.

The same day I drew The Devil, I went to the library to pick up a book I'd requested through interlibrary loan. I had learned of the book from a review and either hadn't seen or didn't remember the cover, which is this:

  Generation of Sociopaths cover

Yeah, I know. Pretty interesting coincidence. The book is a provocative read, all right, challenging everything I've believed about my parents' generation. Maybe that was the lesson of the day: To go there, to push my thinking into a dark place again. The book sort of chose me, along with a few others on class in society--after this in my stack are White Trash and Poor But Proud. It's all research for an in-progress novel based on a real-life murder.

My previous work is a lot of light: the Dreamslippers Series. Back in 2012 when I began to write those stories, I started to take my first book in a darker direction, and the result is that I relapsed into PTSD nightmares, which I'd been free of for some time. So I backed away from that and wrote a cozy-ish series about a 70-something yogi named Amazing Grace instead.

But of course, some of the darkness seeped in. It's called conflict, and you can't have a story without it, especially if your sleuths are solving murders. Besides murder, I also tackled anti-gay violence, racism, murderous jealousy, BDSM, child pornography, and incest. So, yeah. Even when I've got my head turned toward the light, the darkness fringes. At the corners, at least.

I'd been content to relegate it to the edges. But this Devil showing up in my life with such force made me wonder. A recent bout of writer's block specific to the aforementioned novel-in-progress came to mind. Maybe the block had to do with suppressing the dark side? Not wanting to go where I sense this story will make me go? And if I had any doubt, scanning through my email the same day of the two devil-related incidents above dispelled it, as one subject line in particular jumped out at me:

Writer, give in to your dark side

The email came from one of my favorite follows, Colleen M. Story's Writing and Wellness Blog. And lo and behold, the entire newsletter was devoted to this "dark side" issue, and specifically for writers. The articles? Here you go:

 The email was illustrated with another devil:

Devil girl

At this point, I'm like, OK, OK! Dark side! Got it! Thanks, Spirit! Paying attention now, I promise!

But ugh.

Didn't I already know this? 

Over the winter, my stepson turned us onto a movie he loved called Inside Out. It's a Pixar animated film, brilliantly done, and the gist of it is that [spoiler alert] the character you think is the hero, the one who's relentlessly positive, actually turns out to be the villain. At least of a kind. The movie does a remarkable job of illustrating how terrifically bad it is to suppress feelings because they're "negative." The filmmakers consulted psychologists in making the film. I highly recommend it for anyone who's convinced--or is tired of those who are convinced--that positivity is the only way to go, all the time. You're welcome.

There's a real benefit to healthy expressions of negativity. If someone's wronged or harmed you, swallowing your anger or outrage could actually make you feel complicit in their act, an enabler to your own victimization. Denial, sugar-coating the truth, false positivity--none of these things serve us well. 

But there's a balance to it.

One of many dead manuscripts I have in a drawer is something I finished back in 2007 called Meat: A Memoir. I gave it to the agent I had at the time, and, based on the title, she had high hopes. (She described me at a party once as "very talented and very intense.") She loved the short story collection she was then shopping around to publishers. But Meat? "I couldn't get through it," she told me.

It was all darkness, with very little light.

So that's my challenge, as both a writer and a human being.  To integrate my shadow and light sides, to allow them to coexist without judgment, suppression, or imbalance.

But how do you do that? Here are five ways I strike the balance:

  1. Be honest about your feelings. This starts with your own awareness: If something's bothering you, check in to see what exactly it is. Take a moment to get present; close your eyes; see what bubbles up. Writing can be a very powerful discovery tool as well. Sometimes I'll free-write about my project if I've got writer's block. This story is difficult right now because...
  2. Don't guilt or shame yourself into forced happiness. It's OK to feel angry, disappointed, sad, depressed... feel all the feelings. A spiritual leader I know once advised that sometimes, lying on the couch and sucking your thumb is exactly the right response to the situation. This goes for fictional characters, too. My best writing comes when I "torture" my characters and let them respond in very human ways.
  3. Don't guilt or shame yourself into silence. Talking about the darkness can help bring it into the light. I once had a writing teacher say that Shakespeare's work continues to resonate to this day because most of the characters are speaking at moments of high crisis. This is where the best fiction lies.
  4. Don't let anyone else guilt or shame you into silence. Whenever I get to the point where I feel someone is just not capable of hearing me, I stop the conversation and find other ways to express myself. Truths can be uncomfortable, and when they threaten status quo, there can be a tendency to silence the truth-bearer. But silencing someone is a power play that comes from insecurity. This goes for writing groups, too. If someone's critiquing your work in a way that feels silencing, it might be time to reevaluate whether the critique is constructive or even helpful.
  5. Don't wallow. If you find you've been wading in the darkness for some time, and you're far past the point of gaining insight from it, then it's time to get up off the couch and rejoin the world. But even then, don't do the things people want you to do but rather what brings you happiness. That goes for the writing, too. Like my dead manuscript example above, an all-dark world doesn't actually make for good storytelling. Without the victory, conflict can feel relentless and suffocating. 

What it comes down to is your shadow side and your dark side actually need each other.

Thanks to Alice Smeets for her lovely Ghetto Tarot and Colleen M. Story for her insightful essays. I hope you'll check out their work.

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Partners in Crime Spring '17: The 21-Blog Salute!

Booktourlove

March was a busy month, as I had two virtual book tours running at the same time--with participation from a whopping 21 blogs. Partners in Crime sponsored the first tour, and then blogger "CMash" added a side tour when she chose me for Author of the Month.

The two giveaways drew huge crowds, for a total of 1,169 entries. Four participants snagged Amazon gift certificates, two received signed paperbacks in the mail, and nine won ebook copies of the focus book for the tour, Cat in the Flock. A huge thanks to the army of book bloggers who stumped for the Dreamslippers Series, and congrats to the winners. 

Besides the giveaways, the tour had several components: guest blogs, interviews (including a live radio show), reviews, and spotlights.

Guest Posts

I've very much enjoyed having authors as guests on my own blog for the "What's the Motive?" series, so it's nice to keep the karma flowing by serving as a guest myself. Per the book bloggers' prompts, I delved into the inspiration behind the Dreamslippers series as well as my current work-in-progress, in addition to other meaty topics. 

Guestblog

For Books, Dreams, Life, I talked about how the years of work I did as a narrative designer in the video-game industry shaped my intention for the Dreamslippers Series: "That experience—five years spent fighting cliché—drove me to create a kick-ass grandmother/granddaughter duo based on the real women in my life."

For CMash Reads, I wrote three guest posts. In the first, I reveal the premise for my current work-in-progress, a standalone novel that is quite a departure from the Dreamslippers Series. There's also a sneak-peak excerpt of the opening chapter. In another post, I discuss the book-body connection, drawing on my own struggles and victories in yoga and dance as I wrote the series: "The experience forced me to acknowledge limitations, as well as the need to heal." The last is a reflection on my love of "quirky" characters and where that penchant might come from: "My favorite females were made indomitably strong by the challenges they’d faced, and if that forge wrought them into a shape that didn’t fit any mold, we were all the better for it."

Interviews

I gave four interviews, but the most memorable was definitely the Blog Talk Radio interview with Fran Lewis. Fran asked excellent questions based on a very careful, thorough reading of Cat in the Flock, making me think of the book in a new way now that it's been nearly three years since its release.

Microphonehand

For the Author of the Month interview, CMash demanded something of me that no one's asked before: "Tell us why we should read this book." Read the answer here.

For Cozy Up With Kathy, I answer the question I get a lot these days: Will you continue the series? I could tell you here on my own blog, but Granny Grace says I should send you to Kathy's blog for the answer. It's only fair!

The toughest question came from the Writers and Authors blogger, who asked if I discovered anything during my work on Cat in the Flock that was unexpected. The answer is yes: "The biggest thing I learned writing Cat in the Flock was the difference between a mystery story that works for a game and what works for a novel."

Reviews

It's always nice to get reviews on a tour, and this one brought in new opinions from 14 bloggers. Here's a quick snapshot.

Blog #1: CMash Reads 

Stars: 4

Money quote: "The suspense in this book had me turning the pages. The plot contains spirituality, betrayals, truths, lies, murder, and a rekindled love. The thought of the dream slipping was intriguing. And a shocking ending."

Blog #2: Laura's Interests

Stars: None given

Money quote: "The women take the roles of strength and power in this series. Accept it." (Hands down my favorite quote of the tour.)

Blog #3: Reading to Distraction

Stars:

Money quote: "It was also refreshing to see the characters discuss the limitations of such a skill rather than having a solution to the mystery conveniently come up in a dream."  

Blog #4: A Dream Within a Dream

Stars: None given

Money quote: "Lots of details and vivid descriptions brought the story to life in my mind."

Blog #5: Avid Reader

Stars: 5

Money quote: "As a Christian, I was a bit concerned about the part of the plot dealing with a very conservative church. I think Brunette did a fine job portraying the culture of a church when the leadership has gone wrong." 

Blog #6: Wall-to-Wall Books

Stars: None given

Money quote: "I have already decided that I am going to have to read all up-coming books in this new series!"

Blog #7: Bookishly Me

Stars: 4

Money quote: "I really enjoyed seeing Cat develop throughout the story and I cannot wait to see what she will encounter next." 

Bookstar

Blog #8: Just Reviews

Stars: None given

Money quote: "Lisa Brunette takes us deep inside the world of dreams and hopefully Cat will find her way to her own salvation and not remain CAT IN THE FLOCK."

Blog #9: The Book Adventures of Emily

Stars: 5

Money quote: "Cat McCormick is such a great main character."

Blog #10: Books Direct

Stars: None given

Money quote: "The characters are interesting and likable, with full backstories. There are plenty of religious references, but it never feels as if the author is preaching or imposing her religious beliefs on the reader. There's even some romance for Cat - and Grandma Grace! A very satisfying read."

Blog #11: Mystery Suspense Reviews (Audiobook)

Stars: None given

Money quote:  "It was my first listen to Angel Clark as narrator, but I’ll be looking for more. She has just the right voice for Cat, did well distinguishing the voices of different characters, and read at an excellent pace."

Blog #12: Martha's Bookshelf

Stars: None given

Money quote: "I recommend this to readers who enjoy mystery with a touch of supernatural ability."

Blog #13: Wall-to-Wall Books (Audiobook)

Stars: 4.5

Money quote: "I thought the reader's voice was perfect for Cat."

Blog #14: Cozy Up With Kathy

Stars: None given

Money quote: "Although the topics involved in CAT IN THE FLOCK are heavy and filled with gravitas, the book has a lightness and a joy within."

Spotlights

Bookspotlight

These bloggers posted an excerpt, links, and the giveaways. 

b00k r3vie3s

Hott Books

The Pulp and Mystery Shelf

Now that I've done tours for three books and a boxed set, I've come to think of many of these bloggers as true partners in crime, beyond the tour! Most give of their time and energy without any other return besides the chance to read and talk about books. God love 'em.

Images courtesy of Pixabay.


New Release! Blog Tour! The Dreamslippers Series Boxed Set

Boxed set tour banner

It's happened. The entire Dreamslippers Series is out in the world as one tome.

That's all three novels in one fat ebook.* PLUS a bonus novella "prequel" that explores Amazing Grace's past.

The series centers on the question, "What if you could slip into the dreams of a killer?" This family of PIs can, but that isn't easy.

In Cat in the Flock, the first book, readers meet apprentice dreamslipper Cat McCormick, who moves to Seattle from the Midwest so she can train with her Grandmother Grace. The septuagenarian trailblazer is a dreamslipping pro, having used it to solve crimes as a PI. But Cat gets more than she bargained for as Grace puts her through her New Age paces, with yoga and meditation on the agenda. However, Cat gets drawn back to the Midwest when she discovers a prominent church leader stalking a woman and girl on the run.                                     

In book two, Framed and Burning, Grace pops for a trip to Miami to visit her brother Mick for Art Basel, which should also lift Cat's spirits. But when Mick's studio goes up in flames, and he won't give an alibi, the dreamslippers must defend one of their own.

The third book, Bound to the Truth, takes place in Seattle, with all three dreamslippers under one roof. An up-and-coming architect is found dead, and her wife Robin thinks she knows who did it. But Cat and Grace aren't sure they can trust the grieving widow's claims.

Included in the ebook boxed set is a bonus novella that answers key questions readers have asked about Amazing Grace: How did she get her name? What happened when her daughter Mercy was born? And did Grace really go undercover inside a cult?
 
The first two books won the indieBRAG medallion, and the second book was a finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award and a RONE Award nominee.
 
All three novels are for sale in print locally (near me) at Book ’n’ Brush in Chehalis, and the ebooks are available everywhere ebooks are sold, for any device. 

Buy Links:

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Look for giveaways, guest posts, and more all this week for the blog tour! Free ebooks, audiobooks, and paperbacks to the winners. Here's the first tour stop.

And here's the full tour schedule.

*The ebook clocks in at 262,920 words.