With more coronavirus cases reported close to home, grocery shelves stripped bare, and stores and public places closing each day, the pandemic of COVID-19 occupies a large part of my thoughts as it does for everyone these days. No one is free or safe from being affected by this situation, or even from contracting a case of this deadly virus themselves. My thoughts go out to each and every one of you, wherever you may live or however the virus is changing your life right now. Pray for your friends and loved ones, respond to your community’s crisis in a sensitive and wise way, care for those more at risk among you, and never forget to wash your hands!
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"How The Test of Devotion Was Saved,” a little play on words from the classic movie “How the West Was Won,” would be appropriate for talking about my only western story. Very much like the West itself, Devotion’s road hasn’t been easy. It didn’t fit with my other work. Like Victoria: A Tale of Spain it used Spanish-speaking culture as a backdrop, but the stories Devotion most resembled were actually City of the Invaders (with its criminal angle) and Bellevere House (with its use of historical Americana.) These stories already utilized those elements in my work. So I often wondered if Devotion was even necessary.
It was a challenging book for me to write. I couldn’t remember Lanmont’s first name. I couldn’t remember the alias he used for the first few chapters until his identity was revealed. In the middle part of the story, where Arabella was rescued, I found my eyes sliding off the page. I couldn’t concentrate. (Not a great mindset to be in when looking to publish a book!) Even this year, when the book pushed forward a notch, I still had more typos than average for my first drafts. Giving it to an editor got rid of that problem. But it sounds like Devotion was a largely merited flop. It was too late to recover it and maligning of the early launch by readers was pretty fair.
But then . . . some stories take time. They grow in the telling. Slowly, Devotion slipped into place. It didn’t jar as much, I found the material much easier to work with. The character relationships started to make sense, the errors disappeared, and I could see Lanmont more clearly. In fact, he’s one of the best characters. (Even if he is kind of a jerk.) And so The Test of Devotion is not what it used to be. It’s become a really good story. Even with its many flaws, bumpy launch, and gritty, abrasive tone, there's something to love in this book. It's a story of unlikely friends overcoming differences to help someone else out and that's one thing the world always needs more of. Because it was published fairly recently, I’ll be talking about its characters in posts a little bit down the road.
And there will be more updates.
Welcome to more new subscribers! If you’d like to learn more about my writing and what motivates me to do it, there’s a link at the bottom of this post to last week’s post which gives a little info on What I Write and Why!
And now for this week’s post . . . .
Victoria: A Tale of Spain, my 17th-century lower YA adventure story, wouldn’t have come about without a European trip I took about 9 years ago. The concept for the trip wasn't mine--I hadn’t even thought about going to Europe--and none of the locations and itinerary were chosen by me. In particular, I’d never thought of visiting Spain and I ended up staying there about 7 weeks one summer. If I had considered a trip of my own, it would probably have been focused on the British Isles because that’s the Europe I’m most familiar with from books and movies.
But sometimes things in life just JUMP out at you. They fly in your face and you seem surrounded by a milling blur of impressions, people surrounding you, loud voices, and confusing activities launched at you. Sometimes a story is hiding somewhere in that blur. A story that is launching itself directly into your face. And when anyone is coming straight towards you, let alone a story, you might as well say, “Well, Hello There” and accept it.
At first I didn’t get a lot out of that trip. Secretly, I’d always assumed it couldn’t have the slightest usefulness to my storytelling and to me, writing stories is absolute as a grade for whether I care about it. As a trip it was fun, yes, and had memorable moments. But I didn’t feel they were USEFUL moments. I didn’t see any incidents or places that I wanted to write about after months spent abroad. And when I’m not getting an idea for a story, I feel like moving on. But several years later, I wrote a small draft of a story set in Spain. It wasn’t much good—very angsty and melodramatic, with tense and unhappy family relationships and symbolic action sequences. Later I merged it into a light-hearted little novella that had used some of the El Escorial palace setting as an influence, though not much else in Spain.
I didn’t want to work on the merge of the two because it was a lot of effort for a setting and type of story that was so unusual I couldn’t see much of a real market for the completed book. But the story continued to call my name and Boom, Fly in My Face until I worked on it. And in the end, I’m glad I did. Victoria is a more interesting story than I believed it was and it definitely occupies a place in my books. After all, I like to do unusual ideas once I realize they DO have an audience.
And there will be more updates.
This little detail didn’t appear in the book’s manuscript, but the dusty gravel road bending among green trees that the Harrison family lives beside is called “Harrison Lane” after them. It was actually named by the county because they’re almost the only house on that road and when every road had to be named something (to keep things in order) they asked Mr. Harrison “What’s your last name?” He said “Harrison” so they named the little gravel byway after him.
A small point like this can give you an idea of how long the Harrisons have been around, in a fixed way, in one place. A very long time. And they are well-respected within the community—in a way—although people do think they’re kind of odd. People in small towns can be very narrow-minded, you know. There is something quietly lovely about their home and the girls, who’ve always lived this way, don’t know how nice and cozy their lives might look to other people.
Anybody in their right minds would view the Harrisons as people you’d want to know. They have a great home life, a great home, a great religious faith, and a great loyalty to each other. Anyone who tries to bother them (like the polygamists who appeared in an intermediate draft of the book) are very mistaken about what this family represents. That's why this area was originally presented as very amusing, because it never occurred to me anyone could be bothered by it. The concept of such people trying to take advantage of the Harrison girls is categorically funny to anyone who perceives what the story is really about. But after I received feedback from several people that they took it quite seriously, I felt it was being misunderstood and removed it as a distraction. Meanwhile, our protagonists return to being the Harrisons of Harrison Lane, which is what they would have done in any case whether this area was included or not.
You don't run into people like the Harrisons very often. They truly are unusual, but that’s not always a bad thing.
And there will be more updates.
Pleasant Fiction in an Age of Noise
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When I set about defining my books, I wanted them to be positive places where a gentleness emanated from the pages. A hopeful safety lies in gentleness and there's also an honesty to it. A whirlwind of pushy book blurbs and hot characters (or whatever type character the author wants you to admire) can conceal a reality underneath. A quiet--possibly even lurking--reality that's more visible if you dial down the volume. That lurking reality isn't necessarily bad, but like anything quiet, it gets drowned out by conflict and angst. Peaceful fiction can help explore the truth that noisy books ignore.
Bellevere House has been featured on Ezvid Wiki video "10 Wonderfully Inventive Retellings That Interpret Classic Stories in a New Way." Click to see the video.