As an Author, there are mixed emotions when I bring a story to a close.
Writing THE END is exhilarating, and I have a powerful sense of accomplishment. What began as an idea is now a complete novel.
It’s also sad; I’ll miss the folks who’ve actively (often, loudly) lived in my head for so many months.
It also comes with plenty of questions.
What could I have done differently? Better?
I wonder about the parts I took out, as well as what was left in.
Most of all: will people like my book? Did I invest all this time, energy and emotion…to no avail?
Will anyone read it?
Because it has autobiographical, deeply personal elements, it isn’t easy to be objective. (I’m extremely insecure.)
Each book is special, while I’m writing it.
But this one has a couple of elements that added to personal significance.
FIRST, the origin was unique, and unexpected. (I gave an overview earlier, but I’ll provide a quick recap.)
I’d finished my third book, A Time to Every Purpose, and was working on a new one, based on a idea that came to me, surprisingly, while watching a cheesy Hallmark movie. (Are there any other kind?) The plot was outlined, and I’d crafted detailed backstories to my characters. This one was gonna be light and fun, and was progressing nicely (about 20 chapters).
Then I found an old folder on my computer with the materials/files for a book I’d abandoned about 10 years earlier, after my first novel, Sow the Wind, Reap the Whirlwind, and before my second novel, The Mind Set on the Flesh.
(In between books two and three was my second cancer diagnosis, which derailed my writing…my life…for a while.)
Honestly, I’d forgotten about it. After all, it had been hidden away for a decade, in a folder with an obscure title.
There were character bios, settings, research, and probably 13 or 14 completed chapters, plus multiple fragments sections and story notes/ideas.
It was originally called The Straight and Narrow.
This was before I abandoned Word as my writing tool for my books, so each chapter was a separate Word document. (Such a pain in the…asterisk.) I pulled them all into a single document and re-read what I’d written so long ago.
I wasn’t impressed.
The plot didn’t work, the character motivations made no sense, and the “chemistry” between my two main characters was more sexual than emotional.
Author’s Note: At the time I was writing it, I might have been temporarily possessed by the ghost of Jacqueline Susann. There were sex scenes that made me cringe. (I’m thinking that’s not the reaction an erotic writer wants from a reader.)
It reinforced the fact that I am not an erotic novelist.
But it wasn’t all horrible.
The setting—an Evangelical church in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, in the conservative Deep South—felt real, and consistent with the themes I like to pursue.
The journey of my main character was one I understood, and to which I could relate. He’s a man of sincere faith and strong commitment to his “calling,” coming to terms with his sexual orientation while immersed in that often-oppressive environment. (Write what you know!)
The secondary characters were great!
But in this old story, the main character made that transition quickly, decisively and without much inner conflict.
It was too…easy!
(Trust me: it doesn’t usually happen that way.)
Then came a brainstorm.
And that’s brings us to the SECOND reason this book is special to me.
What if I diverted his journey?
Instead of a direct path from Fundamental faith to self-discovery (i.e., “coming out”), I decided to take him on an arduous side trip.
Rather than immediately embrace his sexuality, he’d make the decision so many of us in his situation did: enroll in an “ex-gay” ministry.
(Bless his heart!)
Personal Note: For years, people have encouraged me to write my autobiography—to tell about my time involved in these programs, and my involvement in leadership—but I’ve always been resistant. However, it occurred to me that I could filter my experiences through the life and lens of a fictional character. He could be the amalgamation of actual experiences: real events, real people, real practices, Also, we could see some of the theological beliefs that drives the impulse to change, and the “promises” of these ministries.
I'm drawing from my own personal life, as well as 30+ years of research.
(Of course, the names have been changed to protect the innocent. And the guilty.)
I think it works!
Overview: We meet Nate Truett while he’s still grieving the tragic loss of his wife. He returns to work, ready to put his life back together. As a respected Marriage and Family Therapist, and a minister on staff at a conservative church, there’s a part of him that feel he must be an example to others.
A random encounter at the gym with Trey Stravos changes everything. They start as friends, then Nate learns Trey is gay. This forces to the surface desires Nate has always suppressed because they violate everything his faith teaches. Over time, Trey disrupts these self-imposed constraints, introducing Nate to forbidden pleasures and unexpected intimacy.
But their relationship threatens to ruin his job…his career…so Nate panics, and immerses himself in a ministry that promises he can permanently overcome these “unwanted, sinful attractions.” His rigorous efforts, and his rise to leadership, drives Trey away, but not Nate’s doubts, questions and unrelenting internal struggle. Or his feelings for Trey. A tragic event sets him on an unexpected path that will force him to make the difficult choice: comply with the truths he knows aren’t working, or live his own truth, in integrity.
Nate is A Double-Minded Man.
For the past year, I’ve been taking that original book apart, piece by piece—discarding parts that were horrible and retaining the stuff that fit into this revised story.
The new novel, A Double-Minded Man, is different from the original in several key ways:
My main character has a new name, and an extensive backstory that helps us understand his internal conflict. Why did he feel compelled to change his sexual orientation?
Nate is on a different and more problematic trajectory than in the original story I wrote ten years ago.
The man who captures Nate’s heart had a complete make-over as well. New name, new occupation, new ethnicity.
The entire story is now told by Nate, in First Person, Past Tense.
Author Note: This is a new method for me, and required some disciplined adjustments in my thinking, and restraint in my writing. As the one who’d lived through much of this, I was always tempted to “fix” the bad theology that was motivating Nate. At times, I wanted to scream at him that what he was being told was a lie. (I wrote about this challenge in an earlier post.)
But I had to remain objective.
Nate had to follow his path, learn his lessons, and find his Truth.
I revised the timeline. Chapter one originally opened around the turn of the new millennium; it now begins in the early 80s, coinciding with my own experiences.
(Little did we know what was ahead of us from a then-unknown virus!)
The story arc, which once covered a couple of years as the Protagonist came to terms with his sexuality, has been expanded to more than ten years. There’s an almost FOUR YEARS interruption in his reconciliation as he spins his self-acceptance wheels (unsuccessfully) in an “ex-gay” ministry.
Then, there’s the recovery. (Healing takes time!)
Secondary characters emerged into more prominent figures.
I love these folks! They’re funny, frustrating, complicated, courageous, tragic, spiritual, sensual, confident, and insecure.
At times, they’re genuine, and they can also be duplicitous.
In other words, they’re human.
New characters have been introduced, particularly the man who leads the “ex-gay” ministry and those involved. They are a checkered, conflicted, damaged group.
Fates have changed. One pivotal character who died in the first incarnation got a reprieve. However, not every person we meet in this story will survive.
The ending is…well, let’s just say when it came to me in a flash of inspiration, I literally shouted, bringing my husband in from the other room.
It made total sense; it’s satisfying, and (I thought), it was perfect.
Not everyone gets what they thought they wanted, but I loved watching their journeys of discovery and change, including changes they didn’t know they needed.
As I’ve worked on the book, I’ve talked about the challenge of writing a necessary sex scene, as well as the difficulties reliving…and repeating…some of the damaging theology of the “ex-gay” mindset.
Nonetheless, I have to say: I think it’s a good story. (Yes, I’m bragging.)
But now, it’s done.
Well, except for all the work that comes after I send the manuscript to the publisher: working with (negotiating with) the editor, approving the design of the book cover, helping with the author bio, crafting blurbs, doing promotion, writing news releases, scheduling interviews, planning a release “event,” updating my website…
Suddenly, I’m very tired.