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Meet Lynessa Layne

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lynessa Layne.

Hi Lynessa, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
As a kid, I had a rocky childhood. To cope with the emotions, I cut my teeth on R.L. Stine’s Fear Street novellas and graduated to Mary Higgins Clark until binging all there was available before stumbling upon my grandmother’s forbidden romance novels as a teenager. Over the next decade, I read everything I could, finishing way too fast and having a book hangover I’d nurse with another book between taking care of the children I brought into this world.

Reading was my escape when I was covered in spit-up and rockin’ an ugly bun. There, between diaper changes, bottles, and elementary school activities, I found Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series, which eventually inspired the show, True Blood. The appeal came in following the same characters through misadventures and growth without having to say quick goodbyes the way I did to characters in standalone novels or short serials.

When I searched but couldn’t find anything similar, for my thirtieth birthday, just after the birth of my fourth, I decided to try my hand at writing my own novel to escape the post-partum depression I’d never before experienced. Having not written creatively since high school, I figured I’d sit at the computer, write about fifteen pages and realize I didn’t have the gift of my novel-writing heroes.

How wrong I was when instead of one novel, I wrote a series in which a young college co-ed with the world at her feet unwittingly falls in love with a hitman while simultaneously falling for her best friend’s brother who’s undercover trying to bring the hitman to justice. What ensues is a battle for her heart, while she battles to remain on the right side of the law for the lover who walks on the wrong side. You also get the story of the hitman’s attempt to escape the syndicate he’s beholden to in order to be with the woman he loves.

When I was finished, I had successfully coped with the depression, but also come through contention in my 13-year marriage to my high school sweetheart ending in divorce. The subsequent devastation of such personal failure combined with the fact that writing-wise, I had no idea what I was doing.

I had great content with tons of mistakes and errors my poor readers overlooked to follow this suspenseful love story. The fact that they were willing to overlook that, told me I had something real on my hands, with two problems: 1) this was the era of Fifty Shades so I’d written for a Fifty audience. 2) That wasn’t the legacy I wanted for myself when I looked at my literary heroes of yore and my children wouldn’t be little forever.

I removed all ten volumes of the Don’t Close Your Eyes Series (#DCYE) and put myself through copyediting certification courses, because, at an Indie author’s budget, paying for professional editing wasn’t an option. I was neck-deep in a custody battle for my babies. As with post-partum depression, the rewriting of Don’t Close Your Eyes became my coping mechanism through those hard times, and I rose out of the ashes with my children and a brand new first volume I was very proud of. I must’ve rewritten that book 6 times before finding the Tuscaloosa Writers and Illustrators Guild by accident.

There, I met my editor and friend, TK Cassidy who, after constructive criticism that brought out the best in my writing (and made me cry through the changes), pushed me to hit publish and quit picking the story apart.

Two years later, I’ve gone from a shy introvert terrified of publishing to a confident woman ready to publish her 6th rewritten novel, a finalist for the 2022 Silver Falchion Award for Best Suspense, and fifteen book shows under my belt by the end of 2022, and a host of new friends who are more like family I’ve met along the way. I’ve made the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition Compilation and written a feature on the subject of villains for Mystery and Suspense Magazine, done several podcast interviews, was featured in the local paper, and graced the cover of GEMS Magazine’s inaugural edition for my creative approach to marketing.

These accomplishments are very small by comparison to a great many of my peers; however, I’ve learned that to win anything, you have to enter. To enter, you have to do the work. To do the work, you have to make the time. To make time means prioritizing your passion to preserve your sanity at times. Everyone’s journeys are different. Though I didn’t win at this year’s Killer Nashville awards banquet, I walked away with the ultimate prize:

8 years ago, my life was falling apart, and I wasn’t sure I’d survive at times. As I looked around that banquet, I saw myself in the presence of those I admired from Mary Higgins Clark’s own world when she lived. I wasn’t hopeless and depressed. I was living a dream I hadn’t known to visualize. I’m married to the best man and my babies grace my space and inspire my days with joy unmeasurable. In short, I am blessed and excited for the future of my writing career in progress.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
On a personal level, I am a survivor of gun and domestic violence, rape and child molestation, and a suicide attempt.

(You are free to use at your discretion, but my only ask is that I not be portrayed as a victim but as a victor because to have come through all of these debilitating traumas with my life intact, I am a miracle and so is my life. I have joy in my days and the past does not dictate my future but has played a huge role in who I’ve chosen to become and how I treat others with compassion and empathy, not to mention the proper portrayal of character struggles.)

Professionally, there have been too many times I’ve almost walked away and tossed my manuscripts in the trash. At times, I’ve been so frustrated I wanted to toss the laptop too. Life would be easier without writing, or at least I tell myself that in such moments, but life wouldn’t be complete without writing because it’s what I was born to do.

Constructive criticism was the most difficult to overcome, and rejection soon after. Without either, there’s no growth and no deeply held determination to rise up within yourself to prove the naysayers wrong. If you find yourself so stubborn you think recommended changes or corrections cannot possibly be accurate, maybe your ego is too big for this job. If you crumble from rejection, it’s okay to cry, but cry through your perseverance. No one said you had to do this gracefully and no one has to know you cried during your creativity. What matters is you keep going.

I kept going. I do it clumsy because it’s better to do it clumsy than not at all. Plus, I stopped focusing on this huge audience in the back of my head and instead focused on the one other person in the world who may stumble upon my work and love this series as much as I do.

My hardest obstacle came after I finished my copyediting certification, I was so trained in the technical aspects, I lost my ability to creatively write for two years because I couldn’t stop editing to save my life. Just when I thought I’d never get my mojo back, I mustered through and came out way better of a writer than I ever was before.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am a certified copyeditor and mystery, and romantic suspense novelist. I’m known for the Don’t Close Your Eyes Series (DCYE) as well as several short stories, one novelette, and an article called The Villains of Romantic Suspense for Mystery and Suspense Magazine.

This might sound silly, but when I was a teen reading Mary Higgins Clark, I’d see references in her bio to Mystery Writers of America. When I became a novelist, MWA was the pinnacle of my goals. I wanted to be part of the world I so admired and the professionals inside it. I joined MWA in 2021 and recently attended the awards banquet after earning the honor of being one of twelve finalists for the Silver Falchion Award for 2022 Best Suspense. I’m most proud of that, but also a short story I wrote in 2017 for Writer’s Digest’s Short Short Story Competition titled The Crow’s Nest which placed 20th out of over 5k submissions. It was based on my youngest daughter and my nights with her as a mother to another newborn in which I playfully use pirate terms and innuendo for the fondest moments of motherhood.

What sets me apart from others, I’ve learned, is that my writing style isn’t typical. A little-known fact about me is that I have Asperger’s and I think since I’m not neurotypical, I don’t tell a story the same way as many others. I rarely, if ever, outline or plot, yet because of my Aspie side, I’m able to store these meticulous details for a host of many characters in my brain without mixing them up. When I go into an area or environment, I absorb details and emotions and then recall what I absorbed with such clarity I can write the atmosphere and make the reader feel like they’re with the characters. That’s actually how I write. I’m often told by readers they feel more like they’re watching a movie in their minds than reading a book, and that’s a wonderful compliment.

So maybe we end by discussing what matters most to you and why?
My family. I almost lost them during the hardest struggle of my life. The writing world is a goal and place of peace for me when turmoil strikes, but I never knew my true strength, capacity, and capability until I was forced to fight for my kids. They taught me how far I’ll go; how brave I was when tested. I surpassed my knowledge of myself and became someone I admired greater than the book characters I looked up to. I think those characters ingrained their strength and tenacity into my psyche, but I couldn’t have done any of this without Christ. Because of the dark themes I write, to some, that may seem taboo, but I write about real, flawed, raw people and places of pain- that’s where Christ found me.

In 2015, when I lost everything, I locked myself in a bathroom and overdosed on pills, and drank a whole bottle of whiskey when I rarely ever drank at all. My then-boyfriend, now husband, tried banging the door in, but it wouldn’t budge. He looked around the room for anything to pick the lock with when he heard an audible voice tell him to try again. When he grabbed the handle of the door, it was unlocked. I was saved that night, though I had a long journey ahead of me to regain normalcy and the life I wanted. I have a tattoo on my inner left forearm of a dandelion with a little lock in the center, the stem is formed with the words, Talitha Cumi and leads down to a connected key for the lock. Talitha Cumi is from Mark 5:41 where Jesus walks into the room with the deceased little girl and says, ” Talitha Cumi, the little girl I say to  arise.”

The tattoo symbolizes these words are the key to unlocking the wishes in my world, but some dandelion wisps travel up my hand to show a wish doesn’t come true without the work of my hands.

In addition to my family, what matters most to me is for people to know how special and unique they are. That they hold the value they may not feel, but I promise it’s there because I was once reduced to ashes, but I arose and so can they.


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