How Journalism Helped Author Teresa Santoski Hone Her Craft

by Pamme Boutselis

Newly published author Teresa Santoski is also a journalist, whose award-winning humor column, Tete-a-tete, is published the first and fifth Thursday of the month in the entertainment section of The Telegraph, a daily newspapers in southern New Hampshire. Santoski’s first book, “Prayers for Oppa,” is a Christian devotional geared toward performers and their fans, with a particular focus on the East Asian entertainment industry.

Have you always written?
I didn’t really start writing outside of school assignments until I was in my first year of college, but I’ve always loved to tell stories. Over the years, I’ve entertained my three younger siblings with the adventures our stuffed animals would have when we weren’t around, and to this day, I make up stories for the whole family about our cat. She’s developed quite the mythology – she runs a small dairy farm and competes in mahjong tournaments on the weekends with her friends.

Once I started college, I started writing things down, and I doubt I’ll ever stop. My official writing career began with an unpaid staff writer position for an online magazine about Christianity and pop culture, along with writing for several college publications.

My senior year, I was hired as a freelancer for The Telegraph. After graduation, I spent the next 10 years working my way up from writing obituaries as a night editorial assistant to covering arts and entertainment as a reporter. I still write for the paper as a freelance humor columnist.

I have a number of creative writing projects in progress, including a screenplay, a novella and a short story collection. “Prayers for Oppa” is the first of these projects to come to fruition.

How did “Prayers for Oppa” come about?
I’ve been interested in Japanese culture since first grade when my teacher hosted a Japanese exchange student and did an entire unit on Japanese food, language and customs. In college, that interest grew to encompass East Asian culture in general, particularly the pop culture. Nothing brings a smile to my face like a quirky variety show sketch or a music video with over-the-top costumes and amazing choreography.

I’ve always wanted to do something for the performers whose work brings me so much joy – to give a little joy back to them, as it were. The ultimate source of joy in my life is my relationship with Jesus Christ. There are a growing number of performers who are Christian in the East Asian entertainment industry, so I decided to write a book that would address the challenges they face and encourage them in their faith. Each devotional includes a prayer for performers to pray, a prayer fans can pray for their favorite performer, and applicable Bible verses for both.

The topics of the devotionals are universal – loneliness, love, good health and difficulty getting work, just to name a few – so anyone can relate to them and be encouraged by “Prayers for Oppa,” whether they’re a performer, a fan or just someone in need of general encouragement.

What challenges do you face in your writing, and how do you overcome them?
I don’t really encounter many challenges in my writing. Over the years, I’ve learned that if I invest time in a piece and continue to work on it, more often than not I’ll achieve the results I set out to achieve. That’s the benefit of having a journalism background. Deadlines do not permit you the luxury of writer’s block, and giving up on an article is not an option – you make it work.

What has the road to publication been like for you?
Because I wanted to have as much creative control as possible throughout the publication process, I decided to go with self-publishing through WestBow Press, a division of Christian publisher Thomas Nelson. Self-publishing allows you to be as hands-on – or as hands-off – as you want with your book. I chose to handle my own editing and proofreading and even hired my own designer to do the cover. The result is a book that matches my original vision quite closely and with which I’m very satisfied.

How do you market your work?
My journalism background has been quite helpful, as I already have some media contacts and connections to local businesses, venues and arts groups. I also use social media to connect with potential readers on a more global level.

What do you know now that you wish you knew back then?
It takes time to cultivate your craft, so don’t worry if it takes you a while to secure a professional writing opportunity or to see a personal project through to publication. Even the most talented writers have to develop their skills and accumulate the experience – both in writing and life – to write effectively.

The wonderful thing about writing is that it’s never wasted. Regardless of whether a project sees the light of day, every word, every sentence you write helps you to become a stronger and more articulate writer.

Who are the authors that have inspired you most, and how have they inspired you?
I love the work of C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle. They taught me that it’s possible for an author to write about his or her faith in ways that are creative, engaging and easy to understand, and that being a writer who is also a Christian is not restrictive, but freeing.

I also really enjoy Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. His writing has shown me that a story can be appreciated on multiple levels and that the more you know about history, art, even pop culture, the more references you will understand in a writer’s work and the more deeply you can enjoy the story.

If you could keep just three books in your library, which would you choose and why?
It was easy for me to choose the first two books, but I couldn’t decide on a third – there are just so many books I enjoy. If these two books are on my shelf, however, I can write anything:

“The Thinker’s Thesaurus” by Peter E. Meltzer. This is a thesaurus for writers who want to boldly go beyond the common synonyms, and I use it frequently when I’m writing fiction or my humor columns.

And naturally, I’d keep my Bible – NIV or The Message translation for preference. It’s central to my life and my writing, and I wouldn’t last very long without it.