The Magic of Story
A crazy thing happened as I wrote what I at first intended to be a contemporary romance, and I’d like to tell you about it, because it highlights one of the best and most mysterious aspects of being a writer-unearthing a story that might’ve just been out there, waiting to be told, all along.
The recipe for a good love story seemed clear to me from the start: One heroine + one hero (preferably with an accent) + conflict + butt-in-chair time = potentially good story. I gathered my ingredients-one romance languages professor (check), one antiques dealer with an English accent (check), a conflict (check)-and sat my butt in the chair. Every story needs a gripping opening scene, so I decided to set the scene at an auction house, where the heroine and her best friend, the hero, could win something. It seemed potentially exciting, so I went about searching for an interesting item for them to win-something from the pool of wares I’d virtually gathered for the hero’s antiques shop.
I decided on the keris, a Javanese weapon with an interesting appearance-a dagger with a wavy blade. I was so eager to show one of my friends my first chapter. I still remember watching her face as she read it. “It’s good,” she said. “Is the keris going to be important in the rest of the story?” I nodded-yes, of course-though in truth I hadn’t thought beyond the first scene. I scrambled to see why it would be important, if it could be-and I stumbled into more potential than what I knew what to do with. The Javanese keris is rich with lore; if it were a person, it would be JK Rowling-that’s how rich it is. Myths include that a keris can decrease inhibitions and help foretell the future, that it has a will (good or evil), that it can act to protect its owner and find him or her if lost, and more.
The keris and its lore began to dictate the course of the book. Sometimes I’d write something and feel confused about it-where had that come from? And then I’d dig a little deeper into the mythology of the keris and realize-ah, that’s why. I remember writing a scene about lights, the heroine’s fear that her light-her soul’s light-had gone out somewhere along the way. It was organically written, without prior thought. The next day, I found an essay written by a keris blacksmith all about soul lights, how no light is ever lost. Weird? Par for the course with this book.
It seemed like kismet, like this book really wanted to be written, but it wasn’t always easy writing with blind faith and allowing the story to morph at will. There was not only a demanding keris now, there was a demanding
sister-a twin, who had died. What did she want? I wrote to learn more of her story. What I discovered shocked even me. My critique partners would chime in every once in a while and ask, “Are you sure this is a romance?” And I always said “Yes, I’m sure,” though I felt less so as time wore on.
You can imagine my broken heart when I sent my “romance” out into the world, after two years of work, only to have it rejected for being outside the scope of traditional storytelling for the genre. It was agent Deidre Knight who took the time to share advice and gently suggest that I should be writing women’s fiction.
After a long cry, and months of hard thinking on what the true heart of the story was, I decided to do it-scrap everything I’d written up to that point and do a better job at serving the work. And a funny thing happened when I let go the reigns of convention, of what I thought the story *had* to be; the story became more refined in what it *was*. The Last Will was about a woman lost and involved her twin and the myth of the keris, but it was-at its core-about acceptance and finding hope again despite profound loss. And, of course, it was still about love-I wasn’t about to lose my hero-with-an-accent; it’s just that his role wasn’t going to be as central as I initially imaged.
So after another ~3 years, I sent my story out into the world again, and this time I found an agent, and this time I found a publisher.
What is my point, after this longwinded ramble?
This: The magic of writing is in the journey. You just have to be willing to take it-one step at a time, turning over rocks along the way, pondering their shape and weight and potential. And if in the end you find yourself in
a place you hadn’t meant to be, surrounded perhaps by a ring of mushrooms, don’t despair that you’re lost. Consider instead that you have discovered a rich new world and a story that needs to be told.
Be sure to thank the fairies.
Write on, all!