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Taming the Monsters- Facing Difficult Subjects One Story at a Time | S.D. Henke

I am self-aware enough to know that putting my stories out into the world won’t arrive without foible. There is an everlasting, guilt-laden concern that I might offend, put off, or alienate readers with what I opt to write and publish. Unfortunately, I don’t operate on the school of thought that would say one must have their reader in mind if they ever want the story to see the light of day. This ‘Let a cricket on your shoulder be your conscience’ kind of thinking has always challenged me as a storyteller. In fact, I believe it is the exact kind of contest I need to improve my writing and craft choices. I’m committed to the prose that will push through boundaries. I will continue to experiment with the guidelines that reshape the common standards as there are endless novel ways in which stories can unfold and an innumerable many they haven’t been told yet! I’ll admit, this opinion has come with some consequence, and I am all about a compromise when a story ‘isn’t working’. I learned quickly the art of stealthy revision when I’m offered professional feedback, but what I won’t do is compromise what makes my story the story. There is a term in the market known as the USP- Unique Selling Proposition, and I work hard to be sure that I’m not settling on something simply because it will sell. For me as a reader and writer, I will always aim for authenticity. I write stories with those risks in mind. These are the same stories that unfold with new prospects, new vision, and new hope.

For those of you who struggle with any form of creative decision making, I am here to share what I deem as my personal litmus test. I ALWAYS write from the heart. Of course, I go back and look through what I write with new vision and I often rely on my readers to be my moral compass, if needed, but when I chose to write about a boy’s close relationship with death and the torment of trauma he faces, I didn’t dream up what this would do in the market or who the ideal reader would be. It was much later, after the first, second, on into the eleventh or so draft that I began having second thoughts. My ‘laurel resting’ self began to question my storytelling self.

Is this a story people will want to read?

And after they read it, would they ever recommend it to others?

Are readers ready for this kind of challenge?

Is this book for the world?

In the beginning, I wrote this book with less consideration of my readers and more focus on what the story could teach. For this reason, I still sit on pins and needles awaiting reviews with full knowledge that the spectrum of readers is a wide-open stage. I am aware that I just put a naked, squalling, colicky book out into the world for all to see just as I hold on fiercely to the love of this story knowing now that it IS for the world. It might not be for everyone, but that isn’t why I wrote it. I wrote it because there is real suffering in the world, and the concept of trauma and death and dying are difficult subjects to discuss, but these are the very things that surround us every day. I felt this truth deserved a story. One that could lead readers across a great divide into the fantastical world of The Bends toward a greater understanding of truth and healing.

A ponderance of death memories from Story Bends ~ “Don’t you think it’s important? I mean, I suppose it might be less important to know how you left the world than from where you began, but aren’t you the slightest bit curious?”

In this story, the reader enters the mind of a disturbed boy who gains a passport to one of the foretold ‘thin places’ between life and death. In this realm of tilted memories, he meets a peculiar trio who help him reclaim his broken bits and discover the secret behind an early death marking. Only then does he realize the nature of his nightmares and the malign source behind his suffering so that he alone can save the living world from a cataclysmic end or die again trying.

I decided that even with these complex and weighty themes, stories like this are important. The monsters inside are one in the same with the survivors we become.

“I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me.” ~Joshua Graham

They reach out to readers with unforeseen connections from a unique and refreshing angle. Disturbingly eclectic mashups of fantasy offer, from a safe distance, altered realities. These are filled with what we are often tasked to face in the real world. I wanted to tell a story that could hold my readers close and keep them safe where boundless impossibility is made possible. I continue to write stories that take on the many shapes of fear and love that will lead my readers on a journey where out of the dark they might find the light. I will continue to tell the hard truths that readers of all ages ache for. They won’t always be pretty, tidy little things that follow rigid rules and cookie cutter frameworks, but what I can promise to the reader, is that they will offer them something different and leave them with something to think about.

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