Today’s Wednesday Writers’ guest is author Tara K. Ross. Tara will be sharing her debut novel Fade to White as well as an excerpt from her short story Pressing into Stillness that leads into the book.
In almost every great novel, the story starts long before the first line. However, as authors, we want to draw a reader into the action right away. The story must begin in a moment of change. This is what I tried to do with Fade to White. Thea Fenton’s story though is a culmination of experiences that make her who she is. For a character to become real and relatable, they must live a life with memorable firsts, unforgettable highs and lows and life-changing lasts. One specific last event in Thea’s life challenged her to rethink her purpose in the world. It forced her to consider pain and death and to move beyond it. It happened on the night of her grandmother’s death. Here is a short excerpt from a short story I wrote, called Pressing into Stillness, that offers a window into the last conversation she had with her grandmother before she passes:
“Can I turn on some music or read to you?” Anything that distracted me from waiting for the inevitable.
Her cheeks appeared hollow beneath the crinkled layers of skin but the muscles that remained crested her eyes into appreciation. Simple things gave her such happiness. A cup of tea. Soft jazz music. Words perfectly combined. She cleared her throat and whispered “…lovely.” Her words were few now. And her wisdom? I already missed it.
I swiped through my playlists until I arrived at “Billie and Grams.” The list was full of memories from this past year, and a tremor re-entered my fingers. Billie Holiday’s Love is Here to Stay swooned through the room and with it the scent of cinnamon in the oven, dancing shadows from the firelight and Gram’s voice reading Little Women under a crocheted blanket.
How did this happen so fast?
I leaned toward the pile of books, all familiar to me now. Most of our past few weeks consisted of The Bible, C.S. Lewis, Robert Fulghum, and Louisa May Alcott. An eclectic mix of faith, fiction and philosophy will keep any person on the right path, she often said.
I chose the top three and spread them across the edge of her bed, next to her painted fingertips. “Your choice.” I expected her to choose the Bible, her reliable request over the past few days.
Her gaze shifted downward and she laid her hand on the closest book. Not her leather-bound NIV from who knows how long ago, but a thin C.S. Lewis book, called The Problem of Pain.
In the first few lines of my debut novel, Fade to White, Thea says that ‘it started with a story in the newspaper’, but there was a greater story planted in her heart long before the death of a classmate. That story already had an ending. Thea’s grams, spent her last moments pouring out as much of this truth as she could. It’s through her pain and death that Thea realizes a greater story. One with an ending that ignites her spark and allows her to share that light not only to herself but beyond. It started with a conversation.
If you would like to read Pressing into Stillness, the short story that first moves Thea into a place of wonder and questioning, please visit Tara’s website at www.tarakross.com.
Tara’s debut young adult contemporary novel, Fade to White, continues this story:
Thea Fenton’s life looks picture-perfect, but inside, she is disintegrating. Wracked by anxiety no one seems to understand or care about, she resorts to self-harm to deflect the pain inside.
When a local teen commits suicide, Thea’s anxiety sky-rockets. Unexplainable things happen, leaving her feeling trapped within her own chaotic mind. The lines between reality and another world start to blur, and her previously mundane issues seem more daunting and insurmountable than ever.
Then she meets Khi, a mysterious new boy from the coffee shop who seems to know her better than she knows herself—and doesn’t think she’s crazy. His quiet confidence and unfounded familiarity draw her into an unconventional friendship.
Khi journeys with her through grief, fear, and confusion to arrive at compassion for the one person Thea never thought she could love.
My phone starts to ding rapid-fire. The discourse between my parents heightens. A familiar tension fills my chest. The oatmeal churns in my stomach. Did one of them just say my name? The room is brighter. Too bright. I peer in the direction of the front window. Where is the window? The usual California shutters and collection of white cupboards blur. All I see are pewter knobs. I swing my head over to Dad and his dark housecoat. His silhouette is turned toward Mom, but his features are barely visible. What is happening? He is less than three feet from me. Why can’t I see his face? The haze thickens. Am I fainting? But there are no stars, no darkness—just light. Endless, blurring, white light.
Oh please, no—I can’t be dying!
I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. The air is sucked from my throat. I can’t breathe. My ears pound. Strained voices fade.
Wait. What is that? A sound, soft at first, grows like a strong wind or a plunging waterfall. It overpowers my racing heart.
About the Author:
Tara K. Ross lives with her husband, two daughters and rescued fur-baby in a field of cookie-cutter homes near Toronto, Canada. She works as a school speech-language pathologist and mentors with local youth programs. When Tara is not writing or reading all things young adult fiction, you can find her rock climbing the Ontario escarpment, planning her family’s next jungle trek or podcasting/blogging at www.tarakross.com.
FADE TO WHITE is her debut novel.