Do you have a muse? Do you consider yourself a creative?
I believe everyone has inherent creativity because we are made in the image of God, the Creator. Creativity shows up in multiple ways, whether you’re a teacher, a chef, an artist, a seamstress, a photographer, marketer, problem-solver, strategist, or musician. You can read more about that on my Journey To Imagination blog.
But right now I’m talking about people who have a creative bent in the arts. Do you long to compose music, paint pictures, or write a novel, poetry, script, or screenplay?
Which of the following stands in the way of your creative endeavors?
- you don’t have the time
- you don’t have an audience
- nobody would want to hear it, see it, or read it anyhow
- there are more practical and important things to do in the world
- other people have taken your idea and done a better job with it
- the world has bigger problems . . . you have bigger problems
- you can’t handle criticism; you’ve been shot down too many times
- you feel you could never succeed
- your first drafts stink
If these obstacles resonate with you, then I’m delighted to introduce you to Tracy Higley’s novel Nightfall in the Garden of Deep Time. You have a lot in common with Kelsey Willoughby.
This novel is a departure from my usual blog fare of historical or contemporary fiction. This one is fantasy. But if fantasy is not your thing, don’t walk away yet. Especially if you’re a novelist, musician, or artist or aspire to be one. Especially if you struggle with justifying all the time, effort, and emotional investment required to create.
Kelsey dreams of a life filled with creativity.
She’s about to stumble into far more than she imagined…
Kelsey Willoughby doesn’t have time to pursue her dream of writing a novel. Imagination doesn’t pay the bills, and she’s busy saving her beautiful bookshop from online competition, hotel developers, and the sneaking suspicion that nobody reads anymore.
Not to mention all those voices telling her she doesn’t have talent.
But then the vacant lot of weeds next door starts to shimmer.
When Kelsey stumbles into a luminous nighttime garden party, larger than the vacant lot that holds it and filled with enigmatic guests, she suspects they hold the key to saving the bookshop, and perhaps even to her own mysterious origins.
But answers aren’t forthcoming, not until Kelsey is willing to confront her past, step into her potential, and push deeper into the unknown edges of the garden, where an unexpected journey takes her into a world of dangerous revelation.
“With evocative prose and a deeply-embedded mystery, the magical realism of Nightfall in the Garden of Deep Time immerses readers in a delicious adventure of creativity and the arts. A must-read for anyone pursuing a creative life.”
This is a novel of fantasy but it’s as real and raw and down-to-earth in the way it captures the heart of the creative struggle. I love the premise, with a protagonist I can relate to at the core of my being.
In fact, I underlined more passages in this book than in any other works of fiction I’ve ever read.
Kelsey Willoughby has plenty of problems demanding her attention. She’s trying to save her grandmother’s bookstore from succumbing to hotel developers. She’s in debt from back taxes and mortgage payments. A businessman continually tries to pressure her to sell out. Her boyfriend is confused by her odd behavior. Her grandmother, or Gran—the woman who adopted her—is languishing in a memory care facility. And Kelsey wonders who her birth parents are.
On top of that, she wrestles with discouragement, rejection, envy, and self-doubt regarding her possible true calling in life: Storytelling. Writing fiction. Adding salt to the wound, an unknown bestselling author has beat her to the punch by publishing a novel that resembles Kelsey’s own manuscript. Same basic premise. So what’s the use?
Surely she’s the only one who faces these obstacles to creativity.
Kelsey’s imagination comes out in other ways: creating a Narnia wardrobe entrance into the children’s section, surrounded by Narnia murals. She also mentors young writers in a weekly class.
The bookstore means everything to her, holding a “thousand portals to other worlds between the pages . . . worlds of love and longing, joy and sadness, of questing and mystery and destiny. The stacks wrap the walls of the building and the days of my life in an embrace that is both consolation and intoxication” (Chapter 1).
Of special meaning to me . . . She even owns a signed 1st edition of her grandmother’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz By L. Frank Baum. (He’s a favorite of mine.)
On magical nights, the neglected, overgrown lot in between the bookstore and the music store transforms into an enchanted garden that lures her in. It’s full of light, music, color, delicious food, and many guests. The garden “holds vigil for life” (Chapter 31).
The crazy thing is: she knows these people. And they know her. But she has no idea how. Because she has never met them before. And some of them are, well, from different eras. Some of them you know, too. Here in the garden they’re only known by their initials, but I was pleased that I guessed most of them correctly.
There are “ordinary” people there, too, such as Sam, the sculptor, who becomes a special friend. Yet nobody is really ordinary. And they all have something important in common.
In the garden, Kelsey is faced with all of her excuses for not following her creative pursuits. The solution isn’t avoidance, but going deeper . . . which means risking everything.
“When you don’t know who you are, it allows others to take from you.
To take what you’ve already been given. . . .
You’ll find the answers here, answers to all your questions.
If you have the courage to go deeper.” —Chapter 7
Which is more real? The garden or the life Kelsey has been living? What is her true identity? She gleans wisdom from the Gardener:
“We’ve all gotten a little fractured and bent in the process.
But pursuing the True, the Good, and the Beautiful
is the beginning of our journey back.” —Chapter 25
“I wonder if you feel it, my friends?
Feel that we live in a shadow world, and we have been trying
to find our way back to the real, since we took our first breath
and somehow sensed that we were meant for more?” — Chapter 25
Is the biggest risk failure?
“Even after the artist overcomes reticence to share the work,
conquers fear that the work has no value, no great quality,
and is able to bring it, to show it, to give it,
even then there is danger that the work itself will go astray.
That the song will not soothe, the story will not heal, the painting will not speak.
To have created, and to have that creative thing fail, is a different sort of pain.
Like the pain inflicted on one’s child rather than one’s own body.
Outside, and yet . . . more grievous.” — Chapter 38
The provocative quotes preceding each chapter were spot on, ones by Frederick Buechner, Madeleine L’Engle, Leland Ryken, and others.
“My assumption is that the story of any one of us
is in some measure the story of us all.” — Frederick Buechner
This compelling, unpredictable story inspires readers to embrace the “magic” of creative nudges, and to rethink their definition of creative success. It challenges them to identify which excuses are valid. (Spoiler: Pretty much none of them). It reminds us of our commonality with every other creative person out there—heartache and struggles before the triumphs. But there’s joy in the journey, no matter how it ends.
Join me for some Q & A with author Tracy Higley.
Questions about Nightfall in the Garden of Deep Time
This contemporary fantasy novel is a deviation from your usual historical fiction (though you’ve employed time travel in some previous novels). What was your inspiration for writing Nightfall in the Garden of Deep Time? What’s your personal connection to the story and your protagonist’s plight?
Tracy: After finishing my last book, the end of the Sahara Aldridge trilogy, I was ready to dive into something entirely new, but I wasn’t certain what I wanted to write next. As a fun exercise, I asked myself “what are all the things you love?” I started a list—of words, images, motifs, metaphors, themes of favorite movies and books, everything I could think of!
When the list got to about 75 things, I printed them out on slips of paper, put them into an “inspiration jar” and started pulling out a two or three every day and just free-writing around how they might connect and be part of a story.
Before long, the idea of secret gardens, portals, and the longing for creativity began to take shape. Even though it wasn’t an idea that matched my usual historical fiction, it was the story my heart was wanting to tell!
How did you decide on the story’s genre, format, and premise in order to drive home your theme of persevering through creative pursuits?
Tracy: I truly believe that people gifted with creativity have a responsibility to create beauty in order to awaken people to something more than the visible world. I wanted to convey that message, and what better way than to have Kelsey herself step into “something more”?
I used a present-tense style, which I’ve never done before, to help give the book and the garden a sense of timelessness, and the way Kelsey is connected to everyone she meets in the garden.
How did you develop your heroine Kelsey? Did she hijack the story or did you have full rein?
Tracy: I’m such a planner, my characters don’t typically hijack my stories, but she definitely developed as I wrote. I think she was a little more carefree when I first started creating her, but eventually got a bit deeper and more serious.
Incidentally, what would Kelsey have to say about you?
Tracy: There is a lot of Kelsey in me—or me in Kelsey, I suppose! As a novelist, I put much of my own journey into her journey of coming to accept herself and her creative gifts, and being willing to take risks to create, regardless of the disappointments or failures that might follow.
Finish this sentence: “Every creative should (or should know) ______________.”
Tracy: Every creative should find freedom to pursue his or her gifts, not out of a desire for acclaim or success (although those are nice), but as a way to love and serve the world with what he or she has been given.
What question about this story would you most like to answer that I didn’t ask?
Tracy: Many people have asked me about the quotes at the start of every chapter – how I chose them, where they came from. They’re a collection of inspiration from my own notes on creativity over the years, meant to inspire the reader. Some of them have direct connection to the chapter, and some don’t, but all of them are meant to encourage the reader to pursue a creative life.
There’s a “deluxe edition” of the book, with each of these quotes at the start of chapters on a full-color page with beautiful images. (Check it out here.)
Questions about writing
What books have been most influential for you as an author?
Tracy: I think every book that has featured a character stepping through some kind of portal has been hugely influential on me, beginning with books like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and A Wrinkle in Time, to books I’ve loved as an adult, like Stephen Lawhead’s The Paradise War.
I also love books set in unusual locations and written with beautiful language, like Elizabeth Kostova’s books.
Where does your interest in ancient history—particularly Egypt—stem from?
Tracy: I think my love of ancient history began in childhood, with Sunday School stories from the Bible. Except my storytelling brain was always asking questions about the other characters – the people who lived in Egypt or Rome or Greece that formed the backdrop of those stories. I was always fascinated with them.
My first visit to Egypt years ago cemented that love – it was magical and inspiring to see the pyramids and the ruins.
Where do your story ideas usually originate from—character, plot, setting, theme, or a combination? Share examples of how one of your stories grew from an initial idea.
Tracy: I’d say my stories most often originate with setting. I’ve written a series on the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and then stories set in the lost cities of Pompeii and Petra. My time travel books were a way to see ancient Egypt through contemporary eyes. Even this latest book was about a place—a magical garden. I’m inspired by nature and man-made wonders!
After I’ve chosen a setting, I typically try to find fascinating historical events that took place there, and then I’m off and running.
Share a little about your novel writing process, and the length of time it takes to complete a book.
Tracy: I’ve used different processes and a varied pace over my twenty-year career and nearly twenty books. But I’m finding that what works best for me is the slow-and-steady method. Write every day, a minimum word count, make those words the best I can, keep at it consistently.
I can write a full-length novel in about six months this way, including the plotting, research and editing. I could do it faster if I pushed, but I don’t like pushing!
Please share something about a current project or the direction you want to go as an author.
Tracy: I am in the very early stages of brainstorming a new series. This one will be a classic murder-mystery series, so a little different again! Ancient history will play an important part, but the story will be set in the present-day.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Tracy: Learn what you can from others (writing friends, mentors, gurus, and experts), but don’t force yourself to conform to anyone else’s method, practice, or habits. Find what works for YOU, without comparison, without self-recrimination that you don’t write like that other person. Find the joy in writing, and do more of that.
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you want another heavy dose of imagination but through dual timeline fiction instead, you might enjoy my novel, Fifteen Minutes with Mr. Baum. Just as Tracy spotlighted various creatives and included ties to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, my novel highlights its author, L. Frank Baum. Set in Holland, Michigan, this pre-published novel alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s. Read more and watch the book trailer here.
If you like Southern fiction or stories about family secrets, you might enjoy my recently re-launched novel All That Is Hidden, Set near North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1968, the story spotlights the bond of family and the connections of a tight-knit community. Northern exploitation threatens as a father’s hidden past catches up to him and tests family ties. Learn more and watch the trailer here.
All That Is Hidden awards:
- winner of the Artisan Book Reviews Book Excellence Award
- semifinalist in Serious Writer’s Book of the Decade contest
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Tracy Higley Bio
Tracy Higley has been attempting to time travel through the pages of books since she was a child. She started her first story at the age of eight, and has since authored nearly twenty books, including the Seven Wonders Series, and the Time Travel Journals of Sahara Aldridge. She earned a Master’s Degree in Ancient and Classical History, and has traveled to Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Israel, Italy, and Turkey, researching her books and falling into adventures. She has been recognized as a finalist in the Christy Awards, the Carol Awards, the ECPA Book of the Year Awards, and has won the Faith, Hope, and Love Reader’s Choice Award. Learn more on her website.
Join me next time for a visit with author Grace Hitchcock.
Meanwhile, have you read Nightfall in the Garden of Deep Time or any other novels by Tracy Higley? Answer in the comments below.
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