When the story of my journey to publication last left off, it was circa 2007 and my initial attempts to find an agent or publisher ran smack dab into a brick wall. And while most of the agents I contacted left me dangling, some actually did me the courtesy of a basic “I-like-your-story-idea-but-have-decided-to-go-in-a-different-direction” rejection letter.
Several months earlier, I heard a literary agent speak at a chapter meeting of the Colorado Christian Fiction Writers Association about how to acquire an agent to represent one’s writing to publishing houses. Afterwards I approached him and asked what I needed to do to get my book into his hands. “Let that lady over there take a look at it first,” he replied, pointing to a woman standing nearby. He went on to tell me that she was an excellent editor who could help me transform my manuscript into something worthy of his consideration. So, I made my way over and introduced myself to Marjorie Vawter, thus starting a writer/editor relationship that has lasted to this day.
Margie read my manuscript and, while she told me it was something worth pursuing, at 300,000 words, it was a behemoth that no publisher would consider. Sure, it was long, but it was no War and Peace! Even so, the markets had changed and no one would publish such a long story from an unknown author.
The solution was clear—my one big book would have to be broken up into three shorter books. And as it so happened, the story had natural transitions at around 100,000 and 200,000 words which would make a trilogy the perfect solution! The possibility made my heart palpitate.
I thought I had found the formula for success, but when all those rejection letters trickled in, my heart sank once more. Would I ever realize my dream of becoming a published author? I believed in this story. I had poured my heart and soul into it. From those summer days in the basement of my youth when the story of Arwyn was birthed to the afternoons spent pounding away on my typewriter, to get it onto paper, to that moment I realized it was my calling to once more take up my pen and fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming an author, giving up was simply not an option.
I brushed the tears away, grit my teeth, and began to look at the feedback a couple of those agents had been kind enough to include in their assessment of my book. I began to see a pattern—they had found it difficult to determine from whose point of view my story was written. My model, J.R.R. Tolkien, had written in omniscient point of view, meaning that he got into the heads of many of his characters, and while that may have worked very well back then, nowadays readers like it when a story is told from the perspective of one or two.
I had only one option—I had to re-write the entire series from Arwyn’s point of view! Such a possibility seemed daunting, exhausting, and I wondered why in the world I would go to all that trouble AGAIN!
There was really no debate. The thought of getting into Arwyn’s head and telling her story through her eyes I knew would take it to new heights, even as it went deeper into this character I had grown to love. After all, in many ways she was me, at least the kind of woman I would hope to be. And that made it much easier, invigorating even, to summon the verve to re-write all 300,000 words, because the entire revision process was so much more than changing “she” to “I” and “her” to “my”. I had the opportunity to dig deeper into her psyche. And that’s what therapists do, right?
The thought of making all the necessary changes made my head spin, especially as long-neglected projects continued to mount. Before I could begin the huge revision, I had to take a step back from writing. I needed a break to do other things for at least a couple of years. But little did I know that my life would soon take a very unexpected twist, plunging me and my family into a year-long adventure in Europe. Throughout our travels, I paid particular attention to the way my meandering footsteps echoed along ancient cobblestone city streets, the way the spires of fairytale castles pierced the sun-drenched Bavarian sky, the mind-blowing manner in which a bunch of higgledy-piggledy buildings could cling to the side of a cliff, where they had been suspended for eons above a thrashing sea, and the way baby lambs scurried to their mothers as my crew of five noisily invaded their meadow. Europe had a way of tugging at my soul, whether it was the call of my ancestors that echoed in my veins or the oldness of everything that hearkened back to a romantic ideal, I found myself falling more in love. And inspired. So much so that I could barely contain the words that flew onto my laptop’s screen in the evenings as I sat in our rented villa in the verdant rolling hills of Tuscany. I was re-writing Arwyn’s story but doing much more than changing the “hers” to “mes”. I was giving it a soul.
For you see, at some point during my hiatus from writing, God was whispering to me, gently nudging me to the realization that this story was about something more, way more. After all, what good would it do to write a story that does not genuinely reflect who I am at my core?
Up until then, Arwyn was for the most part a remnant of that squeaky clean heroine of bygone days when I looked at the world through rose-colored glasses. And, in truth, the distinction between the “good” and the “bad” characters was quite clear. But that’s not the way people truly are.
Despite growing up thinking I had to be the perfect Christian girl, the perfect preacher’s daughter, after being undeniably confronted with my own sinful nature, I had long since abandoned the notion that I could in any way maintain the illusion of perfection. My fancy Disney princess dress I put away in a closet, replaced with outdated jeans, tousled hair, and a ripped t-shirt. But underneath it all, I was still God’s little girl, and He loved me. His heart had bled when I turned my face from Him years before, and like the story of the Prodigal Son, His mighty arms were there waiting to catch me when I came stumbling back.
Spoiler alert: As I pondered what my trilogy was really about, one word came to mind—redemption. As you, dear reader, will see in Books Two and Three, my characters will have their personal struggles. Yes, even Arwyn will have to forget whose she is. Not that it was easy to have my beloved heroine struggle with the darkness inside her own heart, but in the end, it was necessary. Otherwise, she might as well be made into a cheap plastic doll in a fancy dress and too much make-up that sits on the shelf at the local Wal-Mart.
It would still take a couple more years following our return from Europe before I would at last hold The Healer of Guildenwood in my hands. As I began every day, preparing myself for the page or two that would come from it, I always asked God to give me the words I would need for that day. And He always did. A phrase here. A scene there. A subtle aspect to a character I’d not yet considered. And even now as I look at the big picture of my trilogy, I am amazed to discover surprises within the words that I had never noticed before. Folks, this couldn’t have been my own doing. I’m just not that smart.
And so it was that just as God had redeemed my life far beyond anything I ever expected or deserved, so too would that be the theme of The Soultrekker Chronicles.
The Soultrekker Chronicles? Yes, Lord, that is a great name for my trilogy.
Thank you for the story.
Thank you for the words I needed to write that story.
And most of all, thank you for picking me up, mess that I am, brushing me off, and for how you are weaving a brand new princess dress for me that will neither fade nor tear nor ever be stained.