The story behind the story

embracing_hope_cover_for_kindleI sat on the couch in my living room, a paperback book on my lap. I didn’t open it at first as my hands were shaking. I took a few deep breaths, moisture in my eyes, and opened the book. There were the 97,000 words I had labored over for nine years. In print. In paperback. Published.

Fast-forward three weeks. I typed my name in the search bar of the Amazon website and hit “enter.” And there she was! For all the world to see. And buy. And read. And review. Yikes!

“Embracing Hope” has been thrust into the world. Drew and Allison are no longer just in my imagination. They have stepped onto the pages and into other people’s imaginations—and hopefully their hearts.

So how did “Embracing Hope” come to being? I credit/blame a dull evening when I watched an excellent BBC version of “Jane Eyre.” That night I dreamed the beginning, pivotal scene in the middle, and the end of a story about a widower and a young woman. The next day I began writing it. That was in 2007.

“Jane Eyre” is a dark romance. It’s known for the brooding yet compassionate Mr. Rochester whose life has been torn apart by his hidden insane wife locked up in the castle’s attic. Drew in “Embracing Hope” shares a similar brooding compassion, but his wife is not insane: she’s just dead!

Sorry, no spoilers here. Read it for yourself. Embracing Hope on Amazon

The journey to publishing “Embracing Hope” is another story, although it’s not 97,000 words. In the past nine years, I’ve spend hundreds of hours at my computer pounding out words, editing words, deleting words. I’ve entered contests (never won any), had critique partners (thanks, Stacy and Eleanor!), attended a Christian writers’ conference, had it professionally reviewed and edited, joined writers’ associations, etc. All have helped in this quest, but I shudder at the amount of money I’ve spent.

I went into pitching to agents naïve, like most first-timers, and got the typical and expected rejections. In all, 11 rejections. I know that’s very few and I had barely started the agent list I had compiled. I didn’t get discouraged about my writing; I got frustrated and overwhelmed by the complexity of the process, market dominance by the established authors, and upheaval of publishing with the arrival of Amazon and ebooks.

Then my focus shifted due job loss and family issues so I put the books (it’s a series) on the shelf. Looking for a job and pitching a book are similar pursuits: cover letter/query letter, resume/plot synopsis, writing samples/sample chapters, someone else hired/rejection email. I could only take so much rejection so I focused on the job search and ended up in freelance. At one point I didn’t touch the first book for almost two years. Then I got somewhat motivated and dusted it off (technically, I pulled it up from an obscure documents folder on my laptop). Fearing it would be junk, I was surprised that it was actually very good and still relevant to the times.

Yet, I yielded my publishing pursuits to God. And lost interest. Too many things were occupying my mind. Then when I heard a colleague had published after her long hard-fought battle I felt a tug of motivation.

At the same time a dear friend whom I had known since college, continued to harass me, in his gentle manner. He was there for the first chapter in 2007 and hung on to my dream, even when I had let it go. In 2015, he told me about a database that would email publishing news based on my genre. The database eventually yielded three small publishers so I began the arduous task of pitching.

The first publisher turned me down quickly. My novel didn’t fit their formula. I pitched to two others. Three weeks later, in March 2016, I heard from one, offering me a contract, and I was on my way to a publishing date of sometime in 2017. I never got beyond the contract. In August the publisher closed its doors. I wasn’t surprised—I sensed something was wrong by the lack of communication. I shed a few tears, decided my book would be published posthumously, and I put it back on the shelf. For about a week.

I remembered the third publisher I had pitched to. I had contacted them to withdraw my proposal after signing the contract. Should I try them again? Not sure of the protocol, I posted the question on a LinkedIn group for Christian writers, editors, authors, publishers, bloggers. I got a half dozen replies of “Yes! What have you got to lose?”

So I pitched it again, briefly explaining what happened with the first publisher.

Less than a week later I got a nice email from one of the LinkedIn group members. He was sorry about the experience I went through. He had published a few books and offered his advice. I welcomed his advice and basically unloaded on him the bumps of my literary road. Being open and honest was cleansing, and I looked forward to someone giving me a kick in the pants. I sent him the original proposal (first few chapters). He had a couple of issues with the plot, but I explained them and sent him the whole manuscript. I just wanted someone to read it!

He read it and he liked it. A lot. He said it had potential. I slowly realized those books he had published were through his own publishing company; a small start-up in Canada. A red flag went up, based on my earlier experience, but as a two-week email discussion ensued and I did my due diligence in research, I realized this was a legit opportunity! We had a two-hour phone call. Both of us acknowledged that when this relationship started he wasn’t seeking to publish my book, just offer counsel, and I wasn’t seeking to be published. But he said his wife read the manuscript and told him he should publish it. He listened to her. We signed the contract at the end of August with a publishing goal of before Christmas. Two days after I signed the contract, that third publisher asked to see my complete manuscript. I laughed almost to tears and again had to let her down. Bless her heart, she said congratulations and wished me well.

And that brings me to today.

Now that I’m termed a “debut author,” what’s next? Writing novels is a DQYDJ quest: Don’t Quit Your Day Job. I’m not writing to make money; supplement income, yes. I don’t need a best seller. A contest winner would be nice, but not necessary.

More importantly, writing is enjoyable; it’s my talent, and I believe it’s a gift from God. I made my career as a writer and it’s been good to me. I liked writing the people stories the best, which is what fiction is. Simply, I want people to read my book, bring life to the characters and fall in love with them as much as I have.

My stories have a clear message of how God works in people’s lives through the good and bad. I want readers to find inspiration, and at the same time read something that isn’t political, racial, or wages war. If they can forget for a few pages that this is a deeply flawed world, then I’ve succeeded. Lofty goals? Probably. But it is what it is.

There is a poignant asterisk to this venture. My friend who hounded me for over seven years died suddenly in 2015. I wonder if he’s been up there in heaven cheering me on.

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