Synclair author Rachel Gold discusses writing and reading energy and what propels us forward.
I wrote my first few books with a mix of anger and love that has steadily tipped more toward love and playfulness with the last few. I get a lot done with anger, but it’s been fun and necessary the last few years to find out what I can do when I have full permission to enjoy myself in a story.
What energy drives you as a writer or reader? Therapist and writer Bill O’Hanlon lists four writing energies in his helpful book Write is a Verb. I’ve changed the list to match my experience, removing one energy and adding another. As you read down this list, can you guess which one I added? Hint: it goes really well with lesfic.
- Pissed – Exactly as it sounds: sometimes we start a book (writing or reading) because we’re mad, enraged, furious. We might be pissed about social injustice or lack of representation. Maybe we’re pissed because we just saw another great queer relationship on TV end in bad plotting. This is a classic, “I’ll show you how it’s done!” energy.
- Dissed – Bad breakup? Harsh rejection? Obnoxious family member who thinks you’ll never make it as a writer? Well, thank you for this burst of writing energy. (Just remember if it was a bad breakup, you need to change the identifying details, preferably before sending the draft to your beta readers.)
- Blissed – This energy comes from being excited about your subject or the writing process. My favorite version of this is playfully exploring topics I love, plus digging into the process of creating stories that entertain readers while inviting them to think deeply about some of my favorite subjects.
- Kissed – This is the tsunami of momentum you get from your latest crush or the support of your long-time love (or both!). Perhaps you want the world to know just how amazing your girl/woman/person is. Maybe you’re crushing on a TV character and run to your keyboard to dash off thousands of words of fanfic—or you pick up the latest lesfic novel for the same reason: characters who mash your “crush” button.
Did you guess that I added that last one? You’re right! I removed (and folded into “Kissed”) what O’Hanlon calls the “Blessed” energy, which combined having people who love and support you with a brand of luck that contains way too much privilege for my comfort. We need to keep ideas of blessedness and privilege well separated.
My latest novel, Synclair, comes from a mix of the blissed and kissed energies. I love spirituality and religion and have studied that field since I was a teen. Some of my kissed energy also comes from my spirituality, which I’ve never separated from my sexuality.
My relationships with girls and with God seemed to take off around the same time. I grew up Jewish and discovered meditation and Wicca in my mid-teens—around the time I was also discovering girls. (They took a little longer to discover me, but it all worked out.) At 16, I worried that that dating would take me away from my spiritual path. Judaism doesn’t have the strong anti-sex philosophy of a lot of modern Christianity, but the Puritan vibe in the U.S. is heavy enough that I’d caught that idea. In Synclair, I wanted to write about a modern teen feeling those same tensions but also benefiting from the wisdom that I and others have accumulated over the years.
I kept practicing Wicca through college and in my twenties discovered Tantric Buddhist meditation and then Taoist meditation. There are a lot of traditions and practices that interweave sex and spirituality.
I hate that our community gets beaten up by religion sometimes, because spirituality can be such a source of love and safety. The anti-queer religious rhetoric is what tends to make headlines, not the fact that there are thousands of years of religious and spiritual practices that are inclusive of sexual and gender diversity. So I packed up as much blissed and kissed energy as I could and put it into a novel.
In the process of writing this novel, I discovered multiple updates to my spirituality:
A beautifully vast womanist theology – Christianity can be a powerful force for social justice. I asked Professor Todne Thomas of Harvard Divinity School what book might be the cornerstone of a Black teen lesbian’s religious experience and she pointed me toward Monica Coleman’s Making A Way Out of No Way. That book taught me so much that it altered the entire arc of the novel and gave me new answers to why a good deity permits evil in the world.
Goddesses in love with each other who are holding the world – A few of the traditions I’ve practiced have two deities whose love creates and turns the world, like the Horned God and Goddess of Wicca. I knew that could easily be two goddesses, but early in this novel, I came to a point where Synclair had to describe the experience of feeling the goddesses creating the world. I had to choose two goddesses to name and picture. Having done that on the page, I found that I wanted to incorporate that visualization into my meditation practice!
A renewed love for mysticism – I listened to Karen Armstrong’s short audio program “The Future of God,” which reminded me that mystics from many religions say that the Sacred is a mystery we’re not meant to comprehend rationally. You might say, “But Rachel, you just told us there are these two goddesses, how does that even work?” I get to choose the interface I have with the incomprehensible mystery of it all, and I choose my goddesses!
In addition to all that blissed energy, there’s plenty of kissed energy in the book! While Synclair is having her romance with God/Goddesses, she’s also having two—or maybe three—romances with the girls in her life. She has a lot of choices to make and while she doesn’t enjoy the whole process, I think you will.
Register for my Synclair launch party on Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. central time. Hosted by Macalester College, Next Chapter Booksellers and Quatrefoil Library this will be a fun and fascinating discussion! The event is free—please register at the link above!