Tuesday, September 30, 2014

FINDING BALANCE: FACING THE PAST AND FINDING STRENGTH.

By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky
Today is the last day of September, my turn to post here at Sweethearts of the West. I have enjoyed (as I am sure you all have) learning more about our wonderful writers here. We have world travelers, and people that have shared some wonderful memories with us, as well as some of the challenges they have faced in their lives. I admire their honesty and willingness to give us a glimpse into their private lives.

Having said that, for me to talk about myself is like facing a mountain far behind me. I did this type post once before here at Sweethearts of the West (August 30, 2011, to be exact). Back then I shared some sweet memories of my childhood in a small, quaint town in Upstate New York. But I really didn’t open up the vault, so to speak.

You see, although I have some precious memories of my childhood with my wonderful mother and siblings, there are far more dark, violent memories associated with my father that I just am not comfortable discussing. Some wounds are best kept closed. Suffice to say, if my mother was an angel; he was the devil.

There have been some close friends who know a little about my childhood, but I am still reticent to speak about it on a forum like this. Thus, out of respect to my siblings, and my firm belief that it does no good to open old scars, I still won’t discuss them in detail. What I will say about my childhood is that as dark and frightening as it often was, there was also great light and love in the presence of my mother and my faith in God.

I will tell you a secret that I’ve not told anyone but my mother long ago. When I was a little girl of six or maybe seven years old, and my father was in one of his violent moods (which always seemed directed at me), I went outside into the backyard and sat on the swing. I remember saying aloud to myself, “This isn’t real. I’m dead and just remembering, so it can’t hurt me.”

Sad, but true. Why I thought that, I do not know. Maybe even back then, I had the thought process of a writer. But I think it was just the way I was able to handle the volatile temper of my father. Then, one day after I said my little mantra, I looked up at the sky and saw a bright shaft of sunlight break through a dense, dark cloud and shine onto my face. I knew I was not alone. I knew God was there, ever near. I knew he saw everything. He heard everything. And he loved me.

Not a very cheerful start to my post, is it? Sorry, but after thinking about what to say in this post for days, I am still at a loss. All I can say is that as much as I love history, and often get lost in genealogical research and historical research, etc., there are memories you just don’t want to revisit.

Life is a journey, and not always a pleasant one. Bad things happen to good people all the time. And when I look at the world today and the chaos happening in the lives of so many people, I am far more fortunate than some have been. So, instead of posting about myself, I will post a little about what I have learned on my journey to today.

Very often we have to find our path in life on our own. We have to read the signs, heed the warnings, and pick ourselves up when we fall. We must heal our cuts and bruises, pray for strength. We must be willing to work hard at what we want to achieve and persevere, even when it seems hopeless. Most of all, keep looking up toward the sun. Don’t linger in the shadows. Don’t be afraid to dream. Believe in love. Believe in goodness. Believe in yourself. Believe there is someone out there just for you, someone waiting for you. Just BELIEVE and strive to be a good person in how you treat others.

Ironically, I have found that it is the dark times, the challenges in life, and (yes) even the painful moments that give us the greatest strength, the most capacity for compassion, and the sensitivity toward the suffering of others. I consider myself a survivor, and there are lots of us out there. People who have faced, and continue to face, daily challenges in their lives. I am lucky, blessed, in many ways. I did have a wonderful mother and a faith that sustained me. I remained true to my beliefs, my values, and 'made it through the rain'. In fact, there is a song by Barry Manilow (God Bless Him!) that when I first heard it I thought was written for me. Surely, it must have been, right? Ever since, I have claimed it as my personal anthem. It is called, “I Made It Through The Rain”. And it still strengthens me when I need a boost.

The point is I am not alone. You are not alone. People are fighting battles all around you. Someone’s child is sick. Someone’s mother just died. Someone’s husband, son, or daughter in the military has been deployed to a foreign land. Someone is struggling to pay their bills, and someone is hoping when they graduate from college they will be able to find a job. There are people suffering from depression, feeling lost and alone. People who have nothing to believe in anymore, and just want to find a reason to be happy again.

When bad things happen to you, whether in childhood or adulthood, you see things that others often overlook. And deep inside (because of your life experience) there is this determination to help bring awareness to others. Turn bad into good. Standing up for what you believe is hard. Standing up for others is even harder.

For me, I am no longer hindered to speak my mind, especially when I see someone being bullied. And I am able to address certain issues like cruelty, child abuse, and bullying, etc., in my writing. I give my characters a past, and scars they struggle to overcome in their daily lives. And I believe it is those traits, the wound they hide, or that sad vulnerability in their humanity that resonates with readers.

Bad things happen to everyone. Even if you think someone’s life is perfect, think again. We are all human, all on the same path in life – to understand ourselves, our purpose, and to face adversity, hurt, illness, or whatever obstacles life throws at us the best we can.

So, rather than go any further with this—and at the suggestion of a sweet friend named Kate Angell, I decided to answer ten questions from someone who perhaps knows me better than most –a character from one of my books. I actually put their names in a bowl and pulled out the one who would interview me. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Christiana Tatum from THE SENSE OF HONOR, my Regency period historical romance. Not sure if this will work, but let’s give it a try.

CT: “I am not at all sure how this will work either, but I now see where my guarded nature comes from. Is it as difficult for you to trust others, as it was for me in The Sense of Honor.”

AKB: “Believe it or not, there was a time I was too trusting, Christiana. I had a very na├»ve “Pollyanna” attitude that most people were honest and sincere. My mother taught me to always treat people the way I want to be treated, with kindness, honesty, and sincerity. I expected others had that same moral compass. Sadly, they don’t. Mind you, no one is perfect. We all have bad days. Life is stressful. But when you see someone malign or gossip about others repeatedly, you can be sure they will gossip about you, too. I am more observant now. I realize some people like to control or bring others down. Some people love drama in their lives, and seem to thrive on it. I no longer have tolerance or patience for people like that in my life. There are lessons in life when dealing with people we all have to learn, and trust is one of them. I believe trust must be earned, and even then, I am now watchful and wary.”

CT: “You said you give your characters a past, scars they must overcome. For me, you touched on child abuse in my relationship with Lord Bellewyck. In the Prologue, when I am looking at my reflection in the window and drawn back in memory to my childhood, it is such a powerful moment. It carries over into when I am climbing the stairs to his room. The past gave me strength to face Bellewyck. Is that how you handle memories that surface, perhaps unwanted?”

AKB: “No matter how old we get, a part of us will always be the child we once were. For me, when I think about myself as a child, so much time has passed that it is almost as if I am looking at another child. She was so sad, shy, afraid to speak up and be heard, etc. It is hard to explain. She is part of me, but not me anymore. I am very happy and blessed in my life. I am not afraid to speak up, and I draw strength from everything that happened to me. Faith is a major part of it. I think, when anything bad that happens in life, you can either let it suck you under and drown your spirit, or fight to keep your head and swim. If you can’t swim, do a back float. You cannot give in or give up. Just move forward. Believe in goodness. Believe in kindness. Believe in yourself. Push the negativity out of your life, as best you can.”

CT: “How do readers react to situations you put your characters in?”

AKB: “There are many readers who have told me how much they enjoy the books, they love the characters, the challenges they face, and their journey toward ‘happily ever after’, etc. Most readers are very polite and it can be helpful to hear their opinion about something that they dislike or don't understand, etc. I had one person who felt making a child clean chimneys wasn't a 'big deal' Clearly, she didn’t understand the historical facts regarding this type child labor, or how many children were crippled or killed because they were forced to do that work. To me, it was a very ‘big deal’, and something I wanted to address in The Sense of Honor. Still, that reader is entitled to her opinion. Reading is subjective. All I can do is try and write the best story I can, and one that will touch people in positive way."

CT: "Let’s talk about something happier, like the reissue of The Sense of Honor as a Special Edition. What makes it a Special Edition?”

AKB: “Well, the Special Edition contains new content, special editorial changes I made after learning more about the craft of writing, and illustrations -- things that I was not able to do when the book was first released. When I decided to reissue and publish the book myself, I wanted to stay true to the book and the readers who loved it, but also enhance it, too.”

CT: "How are we doing as a Special Edition?”

AKB: “I am happy to say that since its release in July the book has continuously been on Amazon’s Best-Seller List for Regency set Historical Romance in both Kindle and Books in the US and the UK. And it is also on the UK Best-Seller List for Romantic Suspense, and in the US for the overall Historical Romance category.

CT: "What are you working on now?"

AKB: "I am working on a Historical Gothic series set in Regency England and Scotland. I have had several NY publishers interested in the series, but after giving it much thought decided to publish it independently. To do that, I want to have at least two books polished and ready to release close together. The first book is done and I am halfway finished with the second book.”

CT: "What is the title?"

AKB: "The first book is titled “Between the Shadows”, and the second book is “Echoes in the Darkness.”

CT: "Where are you in your next western writing?"

AKB: "Spirit of the Wind, the second book in the Windswept Texas Trilogy, is still in the writing stage. I had to put it on the back burner. The Patience Sinclair series is set in the Regency period, and I really want to finish two or three books in that series for release back-to-back. So, I am focusing my writing and research time on that series. Spirit of the Wind is set in the late 19th century, and has been a challenge for me because the story is very different from Whisper in the Wind. It is finished, but I am not happy with it just yet. It has the time travel element, but from a different angle that I think readers will find exciting and intriguing. And it is darker, more serious in content. There was a lot of humor in Molly and Jordan’s story—mostly due to Molly’s personality and her chemistry with Jordan Blake. However, Ethan Blake’s story in Spirit of the Wind is darker. I need to find a way to lighten it up.

CT: "Are there any plans to return to the characters in The Sense of Honor?"

AKB: "Funny you should ask, Christiana. Yes, I will be returning to Regency England and the much loved characters in The Sense of Honor. Linked novels are plotted for Devlin’s handsome and roguish friends: Mr. Howard Mitchell, Mr. Walter Duncan, Viscount Lyndon, and Michael Stevenson, Earl of Wessex."

CT: "My 10th question is at hand. You write historical fiction, primarily in Regency England and the American West of the 19th century. What is it about those two periods that attracts you?"

AKB: "Well, I am personally more drawn to Scotland and England – especially the Georgian and Regency periods. But the American West is part of my heritage. My mom’s grandparents came to Texas in covered wagons after the Civil War. However, I have also just learned my 4x great grandfather came to Texas in the early 1850s. Having said that, I started writing western fiction because of my older sister, Karen. She LOVED westerns, and asked me to please write a western romance. Not just that but she wanted all the things she loved incorporated into that romance. Hence, Whisper in the Wind has a wagon load of things that happen to Molly and Jordan because of Karen, who passed away in 2005. Someday, I will give a funny insight into those elements, like the ode to Doris Day and Rock Hudson, but that’s for another time.

CT:"Thank you for the opportunity to converse with you today, Ashley. Anything more you would like to say?"

AKB: "Only that for anyone who made it this far through the post, thank you. I hope you didn’t find me too boring’. Far more exciting things happen in my books. In fact, I will be giving away a signed copy of ‘The Sense of Honor - Special Edition’ to someone who posts a comment. Or, if you prefer, a Kindle version of the book.

Oh, and for anyone else out there who ‘made it through the rain’ in their lives, watch the video below. You will perhaps understand why this song means so much to me, and has for years. See you all the end of October! ~ AKB



www.ashleykathbilsky.com

14 comments:

  1. I appreciate your willingness to share some of the darker episodes of your life, and I like that you have gratitude for your mother and the faith you possess. You're right, no matter how bad you think things are, there's always someone worse off.
    Most writers I know experienced dark episodes in their lives. They have a well of emotions to dip into when they develop a story and its characters. Can you imagine a writer with an unscarred life? Where would they go to find the emotion in their stories? Borrow someone else's history? You survived. Now you have a writer's well to dip into.
    I liked the serene pictures you found to post. I enjoyed reading your interesting character questions--sort of the reverse of what is expected.
    I love reading western stories, but I also like Regency era stories--something I would never try to write. All those titles and social mores...YIKES!
    I wish you every success and happiness, Ashley.

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  2. I enjoyed reading your post, Ashley. Although I knew about your past, I love that you mentioned your faith and your mom's positive contribution in your life. Wishing you continued success and happiness in all you do.

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  3. You are so right, Sarah J., about writers being able to write from a well of emotion and experiences. The same applies to actors. They are able to use something in their past to help portray a character.

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful and caring response. I was anxious about how some might respond to this post. ((Hugs))

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  4. Ashley,
    First of all, kudo for this post. Talking about darker episodes of ones life, even if through hints without getting into too many details, takes courage. Personally, I was lucky that both my parents were wonderful parents and did their best to raise me and my brother, along with a couple of cousins who lived with us for a few years. But, I do have friends who went through some kind of abuse and it has left a mark on them and two of these friends in particular often find themselves fighting bouts of depression.
    That said, people do experience things in their life - I certainly have (happy things, not so happy ones, terrible ones) and it forges who they are - or become - and how they think and approach life afterwards.
    In terms of writing, if you've never experienced hardship of some type or another, creating interesting characters and situations will indeed be extremely difficult.
    Doing this interview through one of your character asking questions was brilliant. Loved it.

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    1. Thank you very much for your thoughtful words and understanding, Liette. And I must give credit to author Kate Angell who knew I was having trouble writing this post, and suggested one of my characters ask me questions. So happy you enjoyed it. :)

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  5. Ashley, thank you for opening up to us. We are all friends here, even though many of us have never seen each other face to face.
    each of us face difficult times in our lives, some worse than others. Yet, as has been said by others, those hard times help to form our personalities and outlook on life. You, my friend, have turned out just fine despite, or because of, those rough spots.

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    1. Thank you so much, Lyn. Coming from you, someone I truly respect, your words touch my heart. ((Hugs))

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing, Ashley. I think I've said this before, but I'll say it again, these posts have been a wonderful source of getting to know each other. We often only present one side of ourselves, or hide completely behind our books and this has given us a chance to see the ups and downs we've all gone through to make it to where we are.

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    1. I agree, Kirsten. It has been wonderful to learn more about each other on our journeys. Thank you for your comment.

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  7. Thank you to everyone who posted a comment. As promised in the post, I am giving away a free, signed print copy of THE SENSE OF HONOR - Special Edition (or a Kindle version, if you prefer). Just like with picking the character to interview me, I put the name of each person who commented in a bowl and drew one name. The winner is, Sarah J. McNeal. Congratulations, Sarah!

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  8. I'm feelin' mighty lucky today. Thank you so much to the bowl and the magic fingers that picked me to win this great book. If you need my email addy, here it is:
    starcriter at yahoo dot com
    I would love the Kindle compatible format.
    Thank you so much, Ashley.

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  9. Ashley, I'm so sorry I'm just now getting here. I have not had a computer for three days, and so I'm playing catchup.

    You are so right, with your post. EVERYONE has a battle they're fighting, even if you can't see it. And depression is so hard to overcome at times. I love that song of Barry Manilow's too, well--heck, I just love Barry Manilow. LOL

    What a clever way of letting us get to know you and your character! Lots of fun.

    You're right, not everything is all sweetness and light in life. Some of us have it so much harder than others--and especially when we have a father or mother who makes life a living hell as a child--my husband had a mother like that. There are a lot of "parents" out there like that, but when you're a kid, you think "I'm the only one." So sorry, honey. Wish I could give you a big ol' hug right now.

    You are a very special person, Ashley, and your light shines through. Much love, and congratulations on all your many successes!

    Cheryl

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  10. Thank you, sweet Cheryl. Your words touch my heart. And thank you for the hug. (((Hugs)))

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