Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them. ~Henry
The end. I love to type those words. The first draft of novel writing is a high. Everyone has a
unique process. Mine begins with the characters. Once they’re firmly cemented in my mind, they
tell me the story. I am merely the delivery vessel. Tell their story is taped to my computer screen.
I do not think about theme or genre during the first draft. But after I type the words, the end, the
themes become apparent to me. Ah, so this is what I was writing about.
The last several years have yielded a tremendous amount of work, primarily two projects. One
is Caramel and Magnolias (a romantic suspense, released February 1 by Booktrope Editions).
The other is historical fiction set in the 1930’s in the American south (released later this year as a
Caramel and Magnolias is about four people living on the outskirts of their own lives, or as I
describe in the book, “the sidelines”. They’ve accepted their lives of quiet desperation. They
cope with their loneliness and isolation by immersing themselves in their work.
It wasn’t until I read through the first draft that I realized I’d been writing about myself.
For years I’d been unhappy in my marriage. But I felt trapped. I couldn’t imagine a way out. I
was worried about my children, primarily. And I felt responsible for his happiness. I couldn’t
hurt him by telling the truth. I want out.
So I accepted my fate. I had my two beautiful daughters. I had my work. Surely this was more
than most people had?
And I never uttered the truth to a living soul. Not my best friends. Not my mother. I was good
at pretending everything was fine. I convinced myself it didn’t matter that I was slowly dying or
that I was utterly alone despite being married.
I had a mantra. I am a good wife. I am a good mother. I can be happy. I will be happy. Just try a
Every night I asked God, please make me a better wife and mother tomorrow than I was today.
And please let me love him as I should.
But then something happened that changed everything. I started being seen and heard. Riversong
climbed the bestseller charts. My blog, Inspiration for Ordinary Life, developed a loyal
following. I was something more than what the outside saw - good mother, loyal wife, caring
daughter. I was an artist who had something to say that mattered.
Many readers wrote to me that I’d inspired them or moved them with one of my blog pieces.
And it was always the pieces I hesitated to write, the ones I thought might expose too much of
my soul that received the most response.
The more truthful I was, the more readers responded.
And the more readers responded, the more truthful I became.
I understood, as I never had before, that to create art one must tell the truth. How could I be a
real artist, I asked myself, if I can’t admit the truth to myself? I dread the rest of my life.
But still I stifled it. Be grateful for what you have, I told myself over and over. I immersed
myself further in my work. And then something amazing happened. A friend actually asked me
the question no one had ever asked before.
Are you happy?
And I did something amazing. I answered with the truth.
No. But I’m trapped.
I knew it.
What was this? Someone saw the truth despite my skills at deception. Only one. But it was
enough. Because telling the truth unleashed something I couldn’t take back. I was jarred awake.
I knew I had to get out or I would slowly die.
In the months that followed I made big and necessary changes in my life. It was painful in
every way – telling him, telling my daughters, telling my parents. There were many dark days I
wondered how I would get through.
But I did. I am on the other side now. I am free. I am happy. Yes, I’m terrified some days, no
question. However, in the midst of the fear, I am also hopeful and excited for the rest of my life.
Like my characters in Caramel and Magnolias, I am choosing to live instead of walking around
half-dead. I am no longer quietly desperate. I am living with purpose. I am living with passion
and dreams and faith.
And my work? All the better for it.
The truth does indeed set you free.
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About the Author
Tess Thompson is a novelist and playwright with a BFA in Drama from the University of
Southern California. In 2011, she released her first novel, Riversong, which subsequently
became a bestseller.
Like her main character in Caramel and Magnolias, Tess is from a small town in Southern
Oregon. She currently lives in Seattle, Washington with her two young daughters, Emerson and
Ella, and their puppy Patches. She is inspired daily by the view of the Cascade Mountains from her home office window.
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