| by Winter Lawrence |
If you didn’t already know, I currently reside in the Lone Star State! Originally, I was born and raised on the east coast, so it’s taken me awhile to get used to the weather here. Trust me, it’s very, very different, which is probably why I “spring clean” all year round! It undoubtedly also helps that I’m a huge fan of donating to charities whenever possible, and that my family’s preferred decorative style is minimalistic. We aren’t into clutter, and as a military family, we tend to love things “dress-right-dress,” so even the thought of mess drives us all a little batty!
I suppose that’s why when I dove into “Wall of Crosses” this month for my Author Spotlight segment I was immediately enthralled! Can you imagine inheriting a house that belonged to a hoarder? The thought of it gave me the shivers, and as I read Baj Goodson’s very cool, dramatic novella, I was riveted by the amazingly wonderful story she weaved about a hoarded house and the family who has to clean up the mess, all while uncovering truths that threaten to tear them apart.
Thankfully, Baj had agreed to answer a few candid questions about her book and her writing process with us, so as I devoured her book, I took lots of notes and then I sent over a couple of questions. Here’s what she had to say…
(Q) Baj! Thanks for joining us this month! It’s such a pleasure! To begin, let’s talk about hoarding, because when the reader first picks up “Wall of Crosses,” they immediately find themselves in a cluttered, disorganized, and not-so-neat home. Can you share with us what inspired this story and the idea of all the crosses?
(A) Thanks so much for the interview, Winter, and of course, for reading my book baby! 💕 Okay, so the inspiration for the hoarder house: this came to me on the curtails of a natural disaster in 2016. My husband and I, his family, and so many others in the wide-spread community of southern Louisiana were affected by unprecedented flooding. When all was said and done, I believe they called it “the 5,000 year flood,” meaning the area hadn’t seen flooding to such a degree in the last 5,000 years, and it likely wouldn’t occur again in the next 5,000. I’m sure you can imagine how catastrophic it was.
In the aftermath, everyone had to work together to clean up our homes and businesses. I’d never experienced anything even remotely like this devastation before, so my eyes were opened to new kinds of heartache and suffering as I helped family after family gut their homes for dry-out, mold treatments, and eventually, remodeling. Something else I noticed, though, was the sheer amount of “stuff” accumulated in every house. It struck me how western families, even the minimalists and those in low socio-economic circumstances, acquire a surprising number of ultimately meaningless objects. And y’all...the homes of older people? Those got kinda insane! Sometimes we couldn’t so much as open a door because there was a five-foot wall of debris behind it, and we’d have to a) chop the door down, and then b) literally shovel out the room’s contents. Almost nothing could be salvaged, and to be honest, most of it should have already been thrown out somewhere between 1965 and 2000.
In addition to this, displaced families were moving in left and right with relatives whose homes hadn’t flooded, many of whom were living in the same state of excessive clutter. If I hone in on my memories to locate the exact pin-point where my inspiration was born, this is it. Imagine not only losing your home and virtually everything you own, but also being forced to crowd into someone else’s cluttered house? While these families were relieved to have somewhere to go, it still wasn’t easy. One particular family moved in with a dementia-riddled grandmother who’d been widowed years prior. She had to be constantly reminded why they were living there, why they’d changed things around in her kitchen, why they were borrowing her car, why there was so much stuff in her spare bedroom, why her carport was packed with Rubbermaid bins full of someone else’s belongings. 😓 And this is only one example!
While some families were brought closer together, others were on the verge of being torn apart. Everything was a mess, and emotions ran high. The whole community seemed to exist in survival mode. Tensions rose and fell daily over everything from insurance claims, to FEMA visits, to “when is my turn in the shower?” to searching out a friend for some quality time with a washing machine, to arguing over what could be thrown away to make more room in a house that felt more like a sardine can. But from the haze of madness, the idea for “Wall of Crosses” began to take shape, and I ran with it.
For your second question, I can’t get too detailed talking about the crosses because spoilers; but I can say the concept is metaphorical and tied to the cast of main characters. As a westernized symbol, the cross represents Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. However, for a long time before and even after Jesus was crucified, the cross represented something else. To put it in extremely simplified terms for the sake of staying non-spoilery...let’s say it stood for “execution.” That’s all I can give you!
(Q) There’s so much juicy family drama going on in “Wall of Crosses!” Where did you get some of the inspiration for your characters and their storylines, and are you a fan of incorporating people you know into your work? If not, do you have any suggestions on how writers can go about separating their real lives from their fiction?
(A) I always enjoy answering this question! 😄 These characters were a blast to create. They practically wrote themselves! And I love drama in stories, despite my detesting it in real life. One of my mantras for plotting is “bad choices make great stories.” Another is “make them lie.” Wrap them together into a burrito, and under the right circumstances, you get the tangy taste of crazy! The WoC family fell into my lap using this method, and so did their storylines. I have a very vivid imagination, and I knew what kind of story I wanted to tell; I just started plugging the most appropriate characters I could think of into the plot as needed.
And right away I wanted to incorporate at least one openly zany, unsettlingly flawed individual, and that was Ruth. While the rest of the cast came from my colorful inner musings, Ruth was the only character I based off a real person. I can’t share who this person is, obvi, but I assure you, she is horrifyingly real and probably belongs in an institution. *Shiver.* Though, as far as I am aware, she hasn’t physically harmed anyone (yet). I try to be careful basing characters on people I know because things can get dicey pretty quick, especially if you paint them in an unflattering light. The last thing I want is to be sued. 😅 #aintnobodygottimeforthat
They say you own everything that’s ever happened to you, and I do believe that. But there is such a thing as slander, so you want to build up a routine of cautionary barriers between you and possible legal action. My advice to any writer inclined to the influence of real people on their fictional characters...proceed with caution. Don’t use a thin veil between your fictional manifestation and the not-so-fictional counterpart. If it’s someone you are on good terms with, you can always get their permission (recommended in writing). Otherwise, you must keep a bit of separation between fiction and fact. Steer clear of anything distinctively incriminating, such as a verbatim conversation had with this person. Also, keep the resemblances—physical or otherwise—to a bare minimum; meaning only take the key traits you want to use for your character, and leave the rest alone.
My personal rule of thumb is to build the character as fiction, and then sprinkle the most crucial, real-life stuff in as an overlay. That way, it technically is a fictional character simply inspired by a real person. Though, tbh, when it comes to my inner circle, I am much more lax. I like to distribute a dash of my friends and family here and there in all my stories, but in minor ways that are entertaining for both them and me (especially me). A commonly-used phrase, physical description, nickname, favorite food, job, hobby, funny quirk, an anecdote. I tend to pull things from my past and sometimes my current life in order to add realism, but it’s always something simple used to strengthen the emotion of the story—nothing coming from a place of spite or condemnation. I also get a huge kick out of naming mean characters after my friends. Nothing gives me the giggles quite like turning my besties into cranky roommates or bitter teen rivals. 😇
(Q) I loved, loved, loved “Wall of Crosses,” but it isn’t your only story! You have a young adult romance entitled “Something Beautiful” that you’re also posting for your readers on Wattpad. Tell us a little bit about that book and what inspired you to share it on this platform.
(A) Ah, great question, thank you! I wrote SB when I was seventeen years old, the summer before my senior year of high school. I used to have a terrible habit (okay, I still do) of starting stories and never finishing them, but this was one of the longest and most controversial. It was also the one I was most proud of. Of course, cut to me now, over a decade later, looking back at what seventeen-year-old me thought was so magnificent…*Cringe!* So I’ve been doing (a lot of) rewriting in order to make it a passable piece of halfway-decent fiction to put in front of actual human eyeballs, and it’s been enjoying a low-key life on Wattpad.
I went this route in the hopes it would get some traction with new, younger readers, and also as a way of keeping my existent readers entertained as they wait for my next book. Buuuut I realize a YA story surrounding the troubles of a pastor’s angsty teen daughter with a short fuse on her explosive emotions is not for everyone (looking at you, men), so it doesn’t quite have the readership I originally hoped for. (And right now the story is on unofficial hiatus, and has been for about three months, even though I didn’t tell anyone. Oops. 😂) But it’s fun to see the little pieces of seventeen-year-old me in this story, and remember the simplicity of the lens in which I viewed the world. I think it brings a certain undercurrent to the younger characters that wouldn’t be there if I’d written this story purely as an adult, and I find that special.
(Q) Self-publishing is a scary, overwhelming business. How did you go about deciding that you were going to take this route, and what’s your advice for writers who are considering it?
(A) I chose to be a self-published author after researching every which way to go in publishing, and determined it was the best fit for me. I'd already found out through recent experiences that I didn't want to answer to anybody else when it came to my own aspirations. I may not sell as many books as traditionally published authors do, but I have 100% control over my work, my life, and everything in between, and that's more important to me.
It ended up being a good decision—I can be very frugal when it comes to spending, so I managed to fork out less than $1k on publishing my first book. It was a lot of work (with many all-nighters, tears shed, and tight deadlines), but I did almost everything myself, or with the help of my husband. I set my own deadlines, we hired a talented friend to make the cover, I tweaked it myself for all the variations we needed, I made my own teaser graphics, did 95% of my own marketing, formatted the manuscript, sought out tips from author friends and influencers for help navigating certain preparations, consulted beta readers and my writing group for editing and revisions, and established my author platform online well before my publication date. It was tough, and I made so many mistakes (i.e., turns out you must have the cover and the MS formatted before you can upload your book for pre-ordering). But I've also never experienced a fraction of this kind of fulfillment in any other career. It may sound cheesy, but I was made for this!
As for my advice to anyone else considering this method of publishing...do the research!! Extensively. You have to make an informed decision. Read blogs and books and articles on the subject, consult a mentor if you can, scour AuthorTube (authors on YouTube), Google “What I wish someone had told me about self-publishing,” sign up for relevant email newsletters, and anything else you can get your hands on. Know how it works, and what to expect on average. On the contrary, do just as much research on the route of traditional publishing. Compare and contrast, and see which method seems like the best fit for you. Because just like self-pubbing isn’t for everyone, neither is traditional pubbing. I actually have tooons of beef with traditional publishing, which helped me make my decision. But only you can decide which one is right for you.
(Q) Let’s talk bookmarks, because you make some really amazingly gorgeous and creative ones that I adore! How did you come into this side business and how do you get your inspiration for all of your awesome designs?
(A) Awww, that gives me warm fuzzies! Thank you, Winter. 😘 I have played around with design since I was in high school, and before that I loved to draw and color and all other manner of artsy things. I don’t think I’ve ever not had the itch to create! When I was in college, I took some intro classes for photography and design, and decided I wanted to pursue those as a career. I began freelancing as a designer and photographer, but had much more local success with photography, and soon stopped designing except for my own purposes.
But when I advanced past my associate’s degree and switched from junior college to a university, my new school didn’t have a single degree program for anything even close to photography OR design. I resigned myself to English, since I loved reading and writing, and figured I would teach after I graduated since that was practical and (hypothetically) easy to attain. But I didn’t have a true desire to teach—just to share my passion for reading and writing. I taught for only a year after college; that’s how quickly I figured out I hated it. But I still loved English, still loved all things creative. I took on a more mundane job just to have a steady income, but began pursuing photography and design again on the side. I also took to writing recreationally again, which I’d stopped doing while teaching because I couldn’t spare the time or the energy.
After a while, my photography and design ambitions failed to garner enough return to justify my effort, so I stepped back from them but continued writing. A few years later, I had another reality check: I didn’t want to waste away in an office anymore, and was dying to seriously chase after my creative passions. At my husband’s urging, I quit my job to pursue writing full-time, and published my first book in September of 2018. While it was a successful book launch, I wanted to bring in more revenue. I’d seen on Instagram how many booklovers collected bookmarks, and I thought, “I could make those!” So I put together a bunch of designs, found some reps, and had my husband build a store into my author website (full disclosure, it wasn’t that quick and simple, but those are the highlights! 😆). By Thanksgiving of 2018, I was selling bookmarks, and have been since. I love it almost as much as writing!
Baj! Thank you so much for such an amazing and insightful interview! I always love getting to know authors better and hearing about their experiences and I think that everyone will take your story to heart, not only because it’s fantastic and intriguing, but also because it came from the ashes of a horrible tragedy, yet it sparked something beautiful and special. I wish you the absolute best of luck with Wall of Crosses and we all look forward to more of your work soon!
Readers, Baj is currently working on a new suspense book that she’s so excited about! It’s not like WoC except in the way of flawed characters and of course twists and turns, but she’s confident it will be enjoyable. 😉 Right now, she’s calling it by the codename A Fine Time to Die until it’s time for the title reveal, but spoiler alert: She’s drawing buckets of inspiration from the vibes of Stranger Things! 😈
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Baj Goodson is the author of the psychological suspense novella WALL OF CROSSES (2018), and Young Adult Wattpad serial SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL (2018). She is currently drafting her third manuscript, a suspense story codenamed A FINE TIME TO DIE.
Baj was pretty much created to make up stories. Even before she could form halfway decent sentences, her mind whizzed with adventures and characters, ripe for the picking. Her love of storytelling occasionally translated into tall-tale fibs growing up, but after enduring more than her fill of consequences, she learned to keep the fabrications confined to paper.
Now that she shares her stories openly with others, Baj has an even greater drive to create memorable, entertaining characters that readers can connect with, and to craft for them equally memorable ventures. Baj is a hard and fast believer in “write what you know.”
Therefore, what inspiration that isn’t from dreams or random lightning strikes of creativity is drawn from her own life experiences and those of the people closest to her. She loves picking the brains of others for the sake of a good story!
But Baj doesn’t box herself in too much by limiting her creativity only to writing. Another passion she can’t seem to shake is design. Check out her bookmark store to see the latest items in her repertoire.
Baj lives in a sweet remodeled townhouse near Baton Rouge, Louisiana with her husband and their two Chorkies. Baton Rouge is the first place she has lived away from her beloved home in East Texas, where she was born and raised. She is the oldest of two children. She formerly worked in healthcare, retail, sales, education, photography, events, and multiple facets of the wedding industry; becoming a writer has always been her wildest dream and ultimate goal.
Readers, to keep up with Baj, you can visit her online at http://bajgoodson.com/