Sunday, November 25, 2007

My Ebenezer

I've done here what I'm told one should never do in a novel, led off with backstory. I'll do my best to keep it brief.

By 1999 I’d written several novels targeted for the Christian (CBA) market. I’d come close to being published a time or two, met some wonderful writers and editors through Oregon Christian Writers, joined a local critique group, and found an on line Writers Forum where writers of all levels, walks of life and nationalities hang out and discuss things like point of view, opening scenes, underpainting, pacing, and dialogue tags. We plot to maim, poison, sicken and otherwise complicate the lives of our characters, cheering each other on whenever we can "make it worse" for them--before we make it better, of course! Well, in most cases….

Where was I? Oh, yes. Then in March of 1999 I was the one dealt a complication; I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease—a type of lymphoma. A very curable type. Mine was caught early enough to give me an 80% chance of beating it the first time around, meaning I would be undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.
“You’ll lose your hair,” my oncologist said. “You’ll lose your ability to have children.”
Two statements I expect no one ever wants to hear, if they like hair, and hope to be parents one day. But even in those early days of diagnosis I’d seen enough evidence of God’s hand and presence at work in the situation, and in my soul, that I accepted both of these eventual consequences of treatment, and it was well with my soul.
But there was one significant side effect of my cure that I wasn’t warned about, that I had to learn about and come to terms with the hard way—by experience: chemo fog.
I had expected to jump back into writing fiction once I got the all clear from my oncologist. I did try… and try… and floundered, faltered and failed. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t keep the plot threads and character development straight—tasks that, while never exactly easy, I once took for granted that my brain could and would perform, as long as I showed up each day, put my backside in the chair and words on the screen. That wasn’t working anymore. I couldn’t think clearly. I gave up on writing a time or two… or three during the next five years until in April of 2004 the urge to write again became overwhelming (like a fire in the bones). I decided to shelve the old projects that weren’t going anywhere and begin something new. A story set in the late 18th Century, a time period of US history I knew next to nothing about; the Revolutionary War had ended by then… I was fairly certain. It would be a story that would cross the lines of race and class, slave and free, north and south, and provide a significant, yet very different, spiritual journey for my main characters, Ian and Seona.
That story became KINDRED (working title), and as I began to write it, I was healed. It was almost as dramatic as God reaching into my brain and flipping the ON switch. Maybe He was waiting for me to choose the right project. I don’t know. I do know that He makes all things beautiful in His time. Not always my time. But the right time.
One interesting (to me) aspect of writing KINDRED is that I didn’t write it linearly—from Chapter 1 straight through to The End, as I had always written BC (before chemo). The main reason being, I didn't know where the story ought to begin. But I could see several intriguing bits that would happen sometime later. It might never have occurred to me to go ahead and write those scenes, never mind not knowing the beginning, had it not been for my on line acquaintance with Diana Gabaldon, an author who writes all her books this way. Chunk writing, it’s come to be called. Following her example, I jumped in and “dug where the ground was soft,” as she has often put it, all the while giving myself a crash course on the 18th Century and American slavery (in which I’m still enrolled). Eventually all the scenes and bits and pieces linked up, I figured out where the story should begin, and three and a half years later have a finished draft.
A very long draft, as I’ve mentioned. But I’ll worry about that soon enough. I’m still in a mood for celebrating the passing of a long-awaited milestone.
In the book of 1 Samuel, chapters 4 – 7, a series of battles between the Israelites and the Philistines is recounted. The Israelites begged the prophet Samuel to intercede for them. Samuel offered a sacrifice to God and prayed for His protection. When the Philistines approached, the Lord “thundered with a great thunder,” and so confused them that they were soundly defeated by Israel. After the victory Samuel “took a stone and set it up between Mizpa and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer (stone of help), saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’ “ (1 Samuel 7:12)
So here I stand atop a mountain, looking back at the winding trail I’ve trodden. Thus far the Lord has helped me. It’s a pleasing view, but I seem to have taken the long way up; perhaps there is a more direct route, a few side trails that can be abandoned? A couple-or-hundred thousand words that can be cut?!
Most novels in CBA are published at lengths of 80,000 to 110,000 words. There are some longer, especially historicals (Liz Curtis Higgs’ Scottish series, for one), and certainly there are longer books published in the ABA market. At present, KINDRED tops out at 284,000 words. I’d like to give it a fighting chance at interesting an agent, and then a publisher.
I have work to do!

Here I raise my Ebenezer,
Here by Thy great help I’ve come.
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.


Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Robert Robinson, 1758

6 comments:

  1. Lori,

    I like how you've shared a bit of your backstory here. I have long been encouraged, and steadied, by your faith and trust in God. Thank you for that! And those flashing cabins are really cool. :-)

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  2. Doree,

    That encouragement and steadying goes both ways, you know.

    Isn't the slide show cool? Blogger rocks!

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  3. Lori, I knew a little of this but by no means the whole story. Thanks for sharing. I find it very encouraging.

    Had you considered trying for the mainstream market rather than Christian fiction? Just look at the success Jan Karon's books have had.

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  4. Hi Beth!

    Yes, I have considered that. I'll query agents that handle sales in both markets, and should I be so fortunate as to get an agent, then let him/her help me make that decision. I think KINDRED would do for what's called a crossover, but I'm by no means an expert on that subject.

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  5. Lori, I just found your blog through Karen Ball's blog and starting reading from your first post forward. I'm only into the second post and am so encouraged. I have stories in my head that God keeps pushing me to get out. I've decided over the past few weeks that I am going to get the stories out.

    This past Wednesday night, I was asked to play the piano, I hadn't practiced in a very long time. Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing was the song. A sign for me that I needed to be reading your posts about your journey. The story sounds great.

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  6. Deborah,

    I'm so glad if anything I've written here has encouraged you to take the next step! I have found writing fiction to be the most demanding, and rewarding, thing I've ever attempted.

    Are you a member of American Christian Fiction Writers? If not, I'd suggest joining up. It's a huge group of Christian writers you can get connected with on various email loops, for encouragement, research questions, networking and fellowship. It's a great place for asking, and answering, each others questions about writing. There is a yearly membership. I believe I have a link to ACFW over in my sidebar, if you need it.

    Blessings of the Lord be upon you as you start writing.

    As for Come Thou Fount, I love that hymn, in part because along the way I realized it was sort of the "theme song" of my MC, Ian Cameron. I wanted so badly to use it in the story, since it was written and being sung by the 1790s. Not until just the previous month did I finally find the place to do it--and I burst into tears when those words flowed out of me, including a few lines from the hymn.

    I love writing. :)

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