Fictional Lessons for an All-Too-Real Life: Stephanie Joyce Cole

It’s the end of the first year of Fictional Lessons for an All-Too-Real Life, and an amazing year it’s been. Authors have shared lessons about time travel, humor, history, and honesty, learned from reading and writing fiction. The most common theme seems to be courage. I wonder what we should make of that – does writing books make you brave, or does it terrify you? Or both?

I’m honored to welcome fellow Champagne Book Group author and Pacific Northwesterner Stephanie Joyce Cole to this page for this installment. Stephanie lived for decades in Alaska.  She and her husband recently relocated to Seattle, where they reside with a predatory but lovable Manx cat (no tail!) named Bruno. Stephanie has a law degree from UCLA and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. Since 1986, she has been associated with Alaska Quarterly Review (AQR), an award-winning literary magazine housed at the University of Alaska, Anchorage.  She is currently a Senior Affiliate Editor for AQR.  When she’s not writing, she’s hiking, creating ceramics, practicing yoga, traveling, volunteering and discovering new ways to have fun–and oh yes, reading, reading, reading.

Author Stephanie Joyce Cole

Author Stephanie Joyce Cole

Stephanie shares her real-life lesson about the grey areas in our human experience from writing her terrific novel, Compass North. 


You might assume that you’d learn life lessons from reading books, not writing them.  It’s certainly true that many books I’ve read have led me to new thoughts and ideas.  The surprise, though, are the lessons you learn when you write a book.

When I started to write COMPASS NORTH, the plot was clearly in my head.  Meredith, downtrodden by years of emotional abuse by her husband, would disappear into a new life in Alaska after a catastrophic accident leaves her presumed dead.  Simple enough and straightforward.  She’d have experiences that would allow her to rediscover who she really was—and happily, to find a new love in the process.

But as I started to put Meredith’s story into words, questions arose that I hadn’t anticipated.  Meredith runs away from her own life.  Is that an act of cowardice or an act of courage?   Can running away ever be the right answer?  Was Meredith a coward to leave behind her tormented life, but also her friends and family, to reinvent herself?  Or did her inner strength allow her to abandon a life that had gone terribly wrong, in the hope of finding some peace and a new start?

As I wrestled with these issues, I was reminded that actions and motivations aren’t as usually black or white as they may appear to other people.  We are all complex creatures, with hopes, fears and dreams.

Sometimes the challenge of courage is to dig deep into yourself, to move beyond a dark place, leaving the past behind and, taking deep breaths, to be willing to put yourself out there again.  Courage is finding a way to face the future bravely, chin up, understanding that without taking chances, there can be no change.

So was Meredith brave or not?  In the end, the reader has to decide for herself.


Find Stephanie Joyce Cole on Facebook or at her website,


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