Today’s guest post is written by my friend and fellow, Playlist Fiction author, Rajdeep Paulus. She discusses inner strength, character development and her latest release, Seeing Through Stones, the sequel to her heart wrenching debut young adult novel, Swimming Through Clouds (both from Playlist Fiction).
At a recent book signing for Seeing Through Stones, an attendee asked the question, “Where does Talia (the protagonist) get her strength?”
Talia, as those of you who read Swimming Through Clouds know, has a heart-breaking background, one of which will require her to muster immense strength to get through. But like the average human (we’re talking all of us who don’t have super powers), she cannot hurdle life’s struggles without help. Talia’s help comes in a tri-fold package.
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Primarily, the first book opens with Talia finding a Post-it note. And then a second. And then several more. Her initial source of strength trickles into her heart via the words of a boy, Lagan, who is smitten over her. He not only drops petals of hope in her pathway, but he also asks her questions, never demands an answer, and shares his heart with her in little yellow square sheets. When their relationship develops to more face-to-face conversations, Lagan promises to “fight for her.” So, the hero has a crush on Talia, and as she starts to fall for him, she finds strength in him.
Talia’s second source of strength comes from her mother, or rather the memories of her mom. Talia remembers some of her deceased mother’s words, especially the plea to take care of Jesse, her brother. Deep down, Talia wants to honor her mother’s broken hearted life by not giving up, and perhaps fulfilling some of her mother’s extinguished dreams in her own life. In Seeing Through Stones, Talia has escaped the wrath of her life and found sanctuary at a women’s shelter. The women at the shelter are another huge source of strength for Talia, sharing their stories to remind Talia she’s not alone, suggesting ways to fight back she had never thought of before and filling in some of the gaps of the mom she’s lost.
Finally, the source of strength that allows Talia a new perspective of her life, shows her purpose, and reminds her of her worth comes from a Friend who speaks to her at a garden and in her dreams. A Friend she cannot see. He is referred to as The Gardener. I never name who The Gardener is, but I use symbolism to point readers to see He is no one other than Jesus. Thinking of how C.S. Lewis created Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, I longed to create a character who offered the main character hope in a way no human could. When I placed Talia under the willow tree in Chicago’s Botanical Garden, the idea of The Gardener naturally arose.
What I love about The Gardener is His ability to speak to Talia through nature. The broken branches of the willow. A sunny or cloudy day. The dirt of the earth. I also treasure the fact that He slowly becomes the father figure Talia always longed for. But my favorite aspect of their relationship is the freedom Talia has to disagree with Him. To not embrace everything He says without questioning Him. To not always get answers. I think these details authenticate Talia’s journey with The Gardener, because the strongest relationships are the ones that have been tested, and His omniscient nature allows Him to show up, regardless of Talia’s day or situation.
In the end, I think Talia’s journey is not unlike our own. We need friends and family to help us through the madness of this life. Similarly, our pasts shouldn’t dictate our futures, but we are shaped by what we’ve been through and by loved ones who have left us. Finally, many of us depend on someone bigger than ourselves. God. The Creator. The one who invented love, faithfulness, peace, and hope.
And if by changing Jesus’ name to The Gardener, a few more people connect with the universal longing to be loved and accepted, pursued and treasured, Talia’s journey will be more than a success for me.
Ultimately, all these sources bolster the muscles of Talia’s resolve and influence her not to give up. Because in the end, we all need someone who won’t give up on us. That’s what helps us to keep on keepin’ on. Yep. We all need that. Especially for those times when we give up on ourselves.
And you? Who is your source of strength? Ever receive a Post-it love note? Just curious.
I recently had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle marathon with a six-year old. Granted I knew who the turtles were, some kind of super heroes who ate pizza and shouted, “Cowabunga!” But, I’d never actually watched an episode.
The thing about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is—they mutate.
Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo began as four ordinary turtles in the sewer system of New York City, but after coming in contact with OOZE they mutated into these cool ninja-like heroes and were named after Italian painters. But the problem with OOZE is it doesn’t always have positive effects.
There is an episode (trust me, I watched eight in a row) where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mutate into creepish, monster-like versions of themselves. Instead of bringing peace they bring destruction. Instead of working together (“turtle power”) they attack one another.
I find myself mutating sometimes too. I don’t have to come in contact with TGRI (the chemical nickname for the OOZE) to turn into a monstrous version of myself. All it takes is something small and quirky. It might be the train gates clanging shut just as I approach, followed by the longest cargo train ever crossing the tracks to mutate me from my smiley self to an impatient grouch. Or if I spill my dark roast with mocha down the front of my white shirt, I mutate from feeling stylin’ to feeling like an ugly beast and growling a bit for good measure. If I hear a friend has been talking behind my back, I mutate into someone with a hole in my gut, who snaps and says unkind things in return.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles needed fragments of Vortex Crystal to stabilize their mutations. I need The Word.
Snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth 1 Peter 3: 11
I read that, and I’m a bit less monstrous. I feel more comfortable in my own shell and don’t’ feel the need to bad-talk those who have bad-talked me.
OR Our God gives you everything you need, makes you everything you’re to be
2 Thessalonians 1:2
And then I’m less grouchy, less negative and less worried if I’m late for a meeting or have dark brown spots down my blouse.
God’s Word reminds me I am not alone, I am loved, I am capable, God will give me strength and stand by my side. I can breathe deeply, shake it off, cross the tracks, take a sip and walk proud, knowing I am stabilized.
Only the Vortex Crystal can save the turtles? What stabilizes you?
Who commands crowds so large, there’s standing room only?
Many people came to the house where he was staying so they could hear him speak. The house was so crowded that there was no room left anywhere. Mark 2
When George Clooney was filming The Ides of March on our college campus, students and townspeople huddled around his trailers in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Hollywood heartthrob. When Dave Matthews played at our University’s arena, the show was sold out in less than an hour, not a single seat left in the house. When our hockey team plays, despite their sleeping bags and overnight vigils, many students are turned away before getting limited, coveted tickets to the games.
“Which do you think is easier to do; heal this man so he can walk again or forgive his sins? But I will show you that I do have the power to forgive sins.” So Jesus said to the paralyzed man. “Stand up! Pick up your stretcher and walk!” The man got up at once, picked up his stretcher and walked out in front of the crowd. Mark 2
Who saves people today?
In our childhood imaginations there were Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman who always saved the innocent, locked the bad guys up and restored order to Gotham City or Metropolis. These guys weren’t just heroes, they were SUPER heroes. But they weren’t real.
In reality, we do have people who save lives; doctors, nurses, fire fighters, policemen, EMT’s, soldiers -- who save human kind from tragedy from danger – sometimes they help the lame walk. Often, they save lives. They are heroes. Real life heroes.
They can save our lives. But they cannot save our souls.
“How can this man say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’? Only God can forgive sins. Mark 2
Only Jesus can do that. He is the ultimate Superhero – saving the innocent, saving us, banishing Satan so he is powerless and restoring order to His people – restoring order to us, when we ask.
Who would you camp out to get a chance to see? Who is your hero?
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