Unexpected Beginning

Monday, May 13, 2013

There she is--Bianca Marshal. The heroine of my first novel. This photograph hangs above my office desk and it always will. It changed my life, and I'm going to tell you how.

The moment I saw her, she called to me. It was a lazy afternoon in Pensacola, Florida. A friend and I stumbled into an antique photography shop. We started browsing, and I came upon Bianca's picture. The world stopped and God seemed to say, "Pay attention. She's important." I stood before the photograph rack, tilted my head, and just stared. There was definitely something different about her, and the more I looked, the more I wanted to know. First, I thought she was beautiful, but not what some might say a raving beauty. I saw her strength. And I saw her pain. Something had happened to her. Something devastating. But she'd pushed through. She'd survived. These things were lingering about her eyes, although perhaps she tried to hide them just before the camera flashed.

I wish I knew who the woman in the photograph was in real life. Unfortunately, like so many people from history, her name and story have been lost forever. The shop owner who sold me the photograph knew nothing about her. Just a random portrait, a woman in a pretty hat. The friend who was with me bought the photograph and gave it to me as a gift. It's one of the best gifts I've ever received.

Walking out of the shop, I held the photograph close. It felt like an adventure. I really didn't know how much of one was about to begin.

When I started The Covered Deep, it was a much different story. I was just starting out as a writer and I had a lot to learn. Now, eight drafts later, I'll tell you a little bit about Bianca's story.

Bianca Marshal is an incurably romantic bookworm who’s holding out for the perfect husband. She doesn’t want much, just that he be (1) a true believer in Jesus Christ (2) devastatingly handsome with a slightly wild look in his eyes (3) brilliant and humorous like Mark Twain (4) a foreigner, possibly a disgruntled duke (5) able to quote Bible verses AND Shakespeare (6) a more than capable kisser, and (7) adore her completely.
Finding a man that meets the requirements of “the list” in the foothills of the Appalachians—Portsmouth, Ohio—has proven impossible. Bianca’s mama insists that there’s no such thing as a perfect true love, and that Bianca’s ideal man is pure fiction. On the eve of her twenty-fifth birthday, Bianca discovers a devastating statistic. Her chance of marrying is now only eighteen percent. But the “S” word—spinsterhood—is not something she’s willing to accept. She’s going to prove the statistics and her mama wrong. Bianca wins an essay contest that propels her into a whirlwind search for the perfect romantic hero. Via the opulence of London and the mysteries of Palestine, Bianca’s true love will be revealed, but not without a price that might be too heavy to pay.                                                                   

If you'd like to know a little more about Bianca, or what happens in the book. You can peruse The Covered Deep Pinterest Board. I'm rather fond of the hero. ;-) Sir Adrian has a warm place in my heart as well, mystery man that he is. And Madeline . . . well, is there any help for her? Oh, and let's not forget Joshua Udolphus Tabor. The man does have his peculiarities . . . And that pain I was talking about earlier, it does happen. As I was writing, it was one of the things in the book that surprised me the most--one of those things writers talk about when they say something just showed up on the page.        

The Covered Deep is currently being shopped by my agent, Rachelle Gardner  of Books & Such Literary Agency. I'm hoping to hear some exciting news soon.                                                    

Beginning Bianca's story has taken me places I never would have imagined. In 2003, I found myself in Asheville, NC, attending my first writers conference through the Christian Writers Guild.  I was amazed when I walked through the doors. I found my tribe--writers who thought just like me. I was hooked. After that, I took CWG's Apprenticeship Course. It taught me how to write, and be disciplined. I acquired my first writing staff job by having the knowledge they gave me. I went on to write fifty articles in different magazines and newspapers. In 2009, I decided to stop freelancing and focus on being a novelist. That's what I've been doing ever since. Conferences, critique groups, contests--you name it. I love the writing world.                                                                                                    

Bianca's photograph started a work in me. I've been changed, and I'd like to think for the better. Something else I didn't expect when I walked out of that shop all those years ago--all the writing friends I've made a long the way. We don't just talk about writing, although that's super-fun. These people are my best friends. I can go to them with life stuff. We cry together, laugh, and pull each other off the ledge from time to time. They are gifts, and I like to think that God knew that back when I was standing in that photography shop. When my hand touched the picture, maybe He smiled and saw all the friendships coming down the way.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was right when he said, "Life is a journey, not a destination." God sure does a lot of amazing things along the way. 

What about you? Have you ever had a lightning moment--an encounter with an object that changed your life forever? 

Waiting is hard for writers. But, if you could change it, would you wish the waiting away? How have you been changed by the years of waiting for a contract? 


Evangeline Denmark said...

I'm going to answer your first question since answering the second might get messy. ;)

The idea for my current novel came from one word. I distinctly remember the moment I fell in love with this word. It came out of nowhere as I drove through the roundabout entering my neighborhood. Curio.

I suppose it's important to note that I've always randomly fallen in love with words, so I wasn't surprised to be suddenly and completely passionate about a word. But where did the word curio come from? I was driving, not in an antique shop.

Regardless, there it was and I loved it.

110,000 words later, do I still love Curio? Well, yes, but the honeymoon is definitely over. If the editing process doesn't pick up, we might be headed for counseling.

Grace said...

Brandy, what a cool story! I love the photograph, and its time period. I think my experience is headed in a similar direction as yours. I'm a novelist, but freelancing to build a reputation. Some days I hate the waiting--just want to get my book out there. How did you decide when you had done enough freelancing and were ready to pursue novel writing? And would you classify your book as historical romance?

Dawn Crandall said...

I have a photo of my first heroine too! And I also found mine in an antique store. :) Mine actually has a part at the novel as well. It isn't a "current" photo of her, but it's one taken just before her life fell apart. I thought I was the only one to do things like this. :D

Brandy Vallance said...

Grace and Dawn, I just realized that you left comments! So sorry, I'm mostly over at my new website www.brandyvallance.com these days. :-)

Grace, I did freelancing for 6 years. I learned a lot during that time--discipline, meeting deadlines, compelling writing--I needed that training in order to finish my novel. As far as the timing, I suppose the passion for my novel just grew. It was always there, on the back burner, but one day I knew it was time. I met a lot of writers in Colorado Springs and started attending writer's meetings. I also joined a critique group. That was one of the best things I ever did.

As far as deciding when it was time to quit freelancing, I knew I couldn't continue freelancing and finish my novel. It was a time issue. So, I became a full-time novelist and devoted all my working time to that. The critique group was the best motivation. Our group would submit up to 30 pages every two weeks. It was a lot of work and a lot of hours writing and editing those pages! However, the stuff I learned during that time was invaluable. :-)

And yes, The Covered Deep is historical romance. <3 Thanks for commenting!

Dawn, so neat that you also have a photo of your heroine. :-)


Brandy Vallance said...

And Grace, freelancing is a great way to build your reputation. Each article is a stepping stone. Also consider entering writing contests if you haven't already. That's a great way to become visible to agents and editors. :-)

Grace said...

That's so cool! I am part of a critique group, who are reading my novel beginnings. Definitely working on freelancing right now though, to build my reputation, as you say. I like the idea of working for myself, but being a novelist has always been my passion. Thanks for the advice! Blessings on your writing.

Brandy Vallance said...

Sounds like you're on your way, Grace. Enjoy the journey! Too often as writers/novelists we're looking for the contract and view that as the ultimate thing. But God gives so many blessings along the road. I have met some of my best friends for life at critique groups and writers meetings. And I wouldn't trade all the laughter we've shared for anything. Although it's hard to wait, the waiting changes you for the better if you let it.

Grace said...

Yes, it's more about the experience for me. I'm going to China in a couple weeks to teach ESL, so that will provide enormous material for my writing. I think God intended people to connect with each other through story, and when that happens, the culture/language barriers begin to fade away. Which makes sense, as he's the ultimate author. ;)

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