GUEST AUTHOR: Jennifer Laam on Her Inner Critic + Giveaway of THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR

jenniferWe’re thrilled to welcome Jennifer Laam, author of the upcoming THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR (St. Martin’s Griffin), to The Debutante Ball this week. In her riveting debut novel that launches on Tuesday, October 22nd, Jennifer seamlessly braids together the stories of three women — Veronica, Lena, and Charlotte — and imagines an alternate history for the Romanov family – one in which a secret fifth daughter, smuggled out of Russia before the revolution, continues the royal lineage to dramatic and unexpected consequences.

Jennifer shares her insights on next week’s topic—our inner critics. Plus, she’s offered to send one lucky commenter a copy of THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR—more details at the end of this post!

My Inner Critic and How I Tricked Her into Helping Me

My inner critic is an obnoxious bully. But aren’t they all.

I bet they take different forms in different minds though. Mine is a shape shifter….and not like those cool shifters you encounter in supernatural fiction. This critical shifter likes to inhabit the forms of people I knew in childhood and adolescence. She’s the girl who made fun of me because my eyelashes were too pale or the friend who suddenly decided to stop talking to me or the director who didn’t think my audition met the rigorous standards of Central Valley community theatre. Other times, she crosses gender lines and is the boy who stood me up or the one who didn’t call the next day even though I thought it had meant something.

tzarNo matter what form she takes, she knows I’m not good enough to be doing whatever it is I’m doing. She wonders why I bother to write at all. She claws at my shoulder and screams at me to STOP. And somehow her voice manages to drown out those of the girls who became good friends, and the boys who thought I was pretty, and the directors who thought I would be fantastic in that role.

Have you met her, too? This inner critic?

Bullies are cowards though, right? Most of them aren’t that bright. They can be outwitted.

When I first started playing with ideas for THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR, I knew I wanted to have a contemporary protagonist with her own troubles. Her story would play alongside the historical sections of the novel. I wondered if I should make the main character a top notch expert in her field. I imagined her standing confidently at a podium, putting on a pair of “smart” glasses for effect, and expertly opining on the state of Russia today. I thought about those Bond girls or characters from the Marvel Universe who are nuclear physicists and ridiculously sexy and kick some serious butt. Maybe she would be like them.

Except I don’t know this person and I don’t think I could write about her. I know people who are unsure of themselves. I know people who put on a brave face for the world but fall to pieces inside because they worry they’re not good enough to do what they want to do. I know people who are scared of failure every day, yet face that fear and work through it. I like these people. I understand them. I want to write about them.

So I gave my main character, Veronica Herrera, an inner critic and all of the doubt and fear that comes with it. When my inner critic began chirping, I let Veronica’s inner critic chirp at her as well. It felt fantastic. It felt like I had stood up to a bully and won.

This didn’t silence my inner critic, of course. She is still alive and well and with me every day. My inner critic even spent some time criticizing this blog post about my inner critic. I suppose the point is not to silence her, but to live in harmony. I try to give her some space, pat her on the head, and even listen when she has something useful to say. But I don’t let her stop me. I count that as a victory.

What do you do to scare off your inner critic, or at least quiet her down?

GIVEAWAY! Comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday, October 24, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR. Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries—just mention that you did so in your comments. We’ll choose and contact the winner on Friday. Good luck!

Jennifer Laam earned her master’s degree in history from Oakland University in Michigan and her bachelor’s degree from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. She has lived in Los Angeles and the suburbs of Detroit, traveled in Russia and Europe, and worked in education and non-profit development. She currently resides in Northern California. THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR is her first novel.

Author: Heather Webb

Heather Webb is the author of BECOMING JOSEPHINE, her debut historical (Plume/Penguin 2014). A freelance editor and blogger, she spends oodles of time helping writers hone their skills—something she adores. You may find her Twittering @msheatherwebb, hosting contests, or hanging around as a contributor to the Editor's Posts. She is also the Twitter mistress for the popular Writer Unboxed. She loves making new reader and writer friends. Stop on by her website, Between the Sheets!

30 Replies to “GUEST AUTHOR: Jennifer Laam on Her Inner Critic + Giveaway of THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR”

  1. I LOVE how you gave your protagonist an inner critic. What a satisfying way to vent. 🙂 I am so so excited about your release next week! I can’t wait to read this book. Thanks for being a guest on The Ball!

  2. “Except I don’t know this person and I don’t think I could write about her.” So true, Jennifer. So glad you chose to go with a protagonist that feels real and we can all relate to. I think even people who seem to have it all together on the outside have an inner critic, propelling them to move forward and be better each day.

    1. I think you’re right, Natalia. I guess some people can hide the critic better than others. This is one of the reasons I love reading and writing interior monologue. I love to know what happens inside other people’s brains.

  3. You’ve described a wonderful way of making a character feel real by allowing her the public face she needs for her role in your novel but also having the inner character that allows you to understand her. That’s a useless lesson for all writers to practice, especially with characters they don’t feel they really know (bullies, for one!). Congratulations on your very peaceful way of triumphing over your inner critic through your partnership with her; a bit of literary aikido!

    1. I appreciate that, Diane. Until I dealt with this topic head on, I didn’t even realize how much of my personal self-doubt had seeped into the character. It just felt “right” at the time. Now I understand why!

  4. (I hope it’s not weird that I’m commenting here! Hi, Jen!) I’m still learning how to quiet my inner critic–I didn’t write for a long time, and now that I’m getting back into it, my neuroses and self-doubts are flaring up intensely in many parts of my life. Mostly I’ve just been trying to fight through it, because writing feels so good, and I like myself more when I write. Some of the best characters I’ve read (and the ones I identify most closely with) struggle with self-doubt, so I’m looking forward to reading about Veronica!

    1. Hi Amelia! Awww…I’m glad to see you here:) The inner critic vs. the desire to write is an epic battle. I think it helps when we all talk about it. I also think it makes sense that writing can intensify self doubt because it is such a personal experience you then share with the world. But I also think writing helps us all wrestle those demons and win. Keep at it and talk to you soon!

  5. Here I am…I’m posting to win a book and yet I feel I’ve found good company and learned a little something. I also have an inner critic, and boy does she have a booming voice. I’ve been trying to concur her for years. With each rejection I receive I hear her laughing telling me, “I told you so” and yet my voice when I succeed never seems to scream back. I need to find a balance with my own critic instead of letting her bully me. Much work still to be done, but thank-you for sharing. I’m looking forward to reading more about your book THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR! Congratulations on your novel!

    1. Hi Laura! I’m so glad to hear that the post helps. For a long time, I let the inner critic win constantly, no matter what I was trying to do, but especially with my writing. I kept way too much to myself and didn’t share my work. Keep at it! Don’t let the critic win! And thank you for your kind words. Looking forward to seeing you on Twitter and Facebook!

    1. Hi Eileen and thank you! I feel so grateful for the cover art. I’ve told people I kind of swooned a little when I first saw the design;) My team over at St. Martin’s Griffin has just been terrific all around.

  6. I balance my inner critics negatives with all the positives in my life.Would love to read your book.facebook&Twitter follower@Rhondareads.

    1. Hi Rhonda! Positives are so important and I try to remember the good stuff when the critic tries to bring me down. (Long baths and good cupcakes also help, I’ve found.) Hope you enjoy the book:)

    1. Hi JJT–Cool, I’m a fan as well! Hope you enjoy…I’m working on a draft now set in the time of Catherine the Great and her awesome advisor/lover, Potemkin. There are so many fascinating time periods to explore.

  7. Congratulations on the release of The Secret Daughter of the Tsar which sounds captivating and enthralling. Learning about your background was interesting and your fascinating travels must have contributed to your history interest and your ultimate writing. How wonderful to complete this goal. Best wishes and much success and more adventures.

    1. Thank you so much, Ellie! I really appreciate your kind words. This is my first novel and first experience with publication and it is quite the ride. Thank you for stopping by and reading my post. 🙂

  8. Thank you, Aimie! Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy the book. If you would like to read a little more background, I also have posts under “extras” on my website. I talk about the appeal of Romanovs and the three main characters in my book.

  9. This was a fascinating post and I think this was a great note to end on: “But I don’t let her stop me. I count that as a victory.” That’s a really healthy mind set and it’s something I think I can definitely improve upon.

    – Melissa

    PS – I’m following y’all on twitter — @meligrey — and on FB

    1. Hi Melissa,
      Thanks for reading. The battle with my inner critic is a continuing struggle…I’m sure we will go head to head once more during NaNoWriMo. I wish you best of luck as you battle yours!

  10. I like to think of my inner critic as my anti-muse. I turn her off by feeding my creativity… visiting a museum, people watching, take a road trip. researching my story, listening to music, or–worst case scenario–indulging in scotch-on-the-rocks.

    I am a rookie Romanov enthusiast. I can’t wait to read this book!!!! Congratulations on the book launch, Jennifer.

  11. Hi Kris,
    Thank you and it’s always good to hear from a fellow Romanov enthusiast! I like your ideas for nursing your muse. I’ll admit, my version of scotch-on-the-rocks is a nice glass of red wine or a vodka cranberry;)

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