Please welcome Laura K. Cowan to Writer Unboxed. Laura writes imaginative stories that explore the connections between the spiritual and natural worlds. Laura’s debut novel The Little Seer was a Top 5 Kindle Bestseller for free titles in Christian Suspense and Occult/Supernatural, and it was hailed by reviewers and readers as “riveting” as well as “moving and lyrical.” Her second novel, a redemptive ghost story titled Music of Sacred Lakes, and her first short story collection, The Thin Places: Supernatural Tales of the Unseen, received rave reviews, and Music of Sacred Lakes also topped the Kindle free bestseller lists during its launch.[pullquote]A combination of emotional abuse and multiple near-death experiences as a child, coupled with a highly intuitive personality that caused her to have dreams and visions of future events in her life even from a young age, led Dreaming Novelist Laura K. Cowan to the work of writing spiritual fantasy.[/pullquote]
A combination of emotional abuse and multiple near-death experiences as a child, coupled with a highly intuitive personality that caused her to have dreams and visions of future events in her life even from a young age, led Dreaming Novelist Laura to the work of writing spiritual fantasy, in which she both explores paths to emotional healing and the supernatural nature of the world we live in, the places beyond it, and what happens when people step between them.
Bringing A Strong Vision to Your Fiction
Spirituality in writing. It’s a hot topic. Too hot to handle, rather.
In the United States, where I live, there has been a slow devolving of public discourse on politics, spirituality, and other topics you should never discuss at the family reunion. But why is that? It’s not because they don’t matter to us anymore. It’s because they are so important to us, and so emotionally charged with histories of abuse and pain, that many of us can’t handle discussing them in a civilized way. Many writers take the hint and steer clear of these topics, particularly spirituality, which is somewhat out of fashion in fiction at the moment. But I never seem to be able to steer away from what is important to me. I steered right into it. And in the process I discovered something I think is important for all of us as writers: how to bring a strong vision to your work that will inspire people to see the world in a new way.
My fiction is technically magical realism or literary fantasy, and has been compared to fantasy sci-fi authors Ursula K. Le Guin and Ray Bradbury. But it has a distinctly spiritual flavor because of its cosmological speculative elements about how the world might be knit together—portals between worlds, visions of what kinds of fantastic beings might be out there, that kind of thing. Even though I never aim to tell people what to think with my fiction, I did realize after a lot of reading and writing that I don’t like stories that don’t have some kind of depth to them, emotionally, spiritually, even intellectually. I now believe that artists need to bring some strong vision of the world to the page, or else why do we want to experience their view of things? Stories need vision, of some kind. They need substance. But how do you develop this vision in your work?
I think you do it by following your heart. Whatever is deep inside you, whatever is really important to you that you wish you could write about—even if you’re afraid no one would care—that is your vision. What do you care about more than being a commercial success? What keeps you going in life when times are terrible? Write about that. Write about what you love and what you hate all wrapped up in a circumstance where they can’t get away from each other. That’s what matters to you. That’s your vision of the world.
Does writing this kind of fiction, controversial and intense, make it difficult to get published with a traditional publisher these days? Sometimes. But after obsessing over this in my own writing for far too long, I decided I’m not in the business of pandering. I have gone through hell to be a writer, and it would be a tragedy to come this far and end up writing what someone else told me would sell when it isn’t what’s burning inside me to write. So I write spiritual fiction. Take it or leave it, though I hope my work is entertaining and does not need to be believed literally to be enjoyed. My work takes what I see in the world on multiple levels and makes it literal, brings the invisible realms into the visible to give people the chance to experience life in a new and wonderful way.
I do believe that readers in general recognize good fiction when they see it, so there is a reason that strong love stories dominate the fiction trends in most genres, even when the writing isn’t strong. People need love stories. People need many other kinds of stories, too. So when I write spiritual fiction, it is important for me to make sure it is the best fiction I can write. No excuse to soap box. This is art. But if you have something burning inside of you to write and no one seems interested, I say you learn your craft and you push your art to its limits, and when you offer it to the world, they may realize that was what they needed all along.
Unless you’re Van Gogh and never sell a single painting in your lifetime, in which case you can hope you’re good enough for posthumous accolades. Yeah, I know. Not really funny when you’re killing yourself to make a living at your art, but there is so much out of our control as writers.
Isn’t it time to just write what we came here to write?
It’s too hard to come this far and write shallow fiction. Write what’s inside you, whatever it is. Bring it out into the light. If it’s not popular, you’ll need a day job. It will be hard either way. But I know for myself, when I stopped apologizing for how spiritual my focus is in life and in my fiction, I became radically happy. I may not be right about everything—how could I be? But I now know that I am not crazy. And you’re probably not crazy for whatever is burning inside of you either. Can you surgically remove your personality before you write? Are you sure you really should? I know it’s a hard sell when it’s not what everyone else is writing, but it’s also what sets you apart. I guess if we write the fiction that burns inside of us, that carries our vision of the world, we’ll just have to be very, very good. There’s no tragedy in that.
“Write what’s inside you, whatever it is,” Laura says. What’s inside of you? Is there something you care about more than being a commercial success?