writing a middle grade adventure novel (that happens to also be historical fiction)

Each time as I've neared the completion of a writing project, God has seemed to kindle an interest in a specific topic or portion of Scripture. And I have a ridiculous number of concept ideas. But when there's an unquenchable burning to answer a question, to figure out, to understand - that's where I invest my efforts. And writing is just my way of working things out.


After writing The Girl in the Mirror and No Matter What, both devotional workbooks for teens/young adults, God led me to 2 Kings. 

No Matter What was my struggle through a difficult season. For two years I gazed into the tide pool of Psalm 104, watching the ripples, unearthing the mysteries, finding the joy. 

And then God gave us our second son, our healing in the midst of muddy waters, and we named him Jordan. And God fixed my attention on the story of Naaman. 

I needed to understand the biblical backgrounds, the literal lay of the Land, the characters, the big picture and the minute details.

It was important for me to get the history right. I plotted a timeline of 2 Kings 2-8, piecing in the facts in a plausible order. I cross-referenced other portions from the biblical history books to make sure I had my Northern and Southern kingdoms' kings (who seem to use identical names in some of the versions). I borrowed other people's research to check my own. I drew maps. I poured through Manners and Customs of Bible Lands

Pretty early on I knew this book wasn't going to be a devotional. Instead it would be a middle grade adventure novel grounded in the reality of the biblical story. 

Guy Vanderhaege writes, "History tells us what people do; historical fiction helps us imagine how they felt."

So I kept rereading the passages with inquisition and imagination. 

I knew from the beginning I needed to tell the story of the little maid (I called her Cassia). I needed to see through her eyes, to experience her life. At one point I even limited my own Bible reading to only what Cassia would have had available to her.

As I began to tell the story, I realized that I couldn't tell all of it from the character's perspective. I knew I didn't want to write from an omniscient viewpoint, and as I started working through the passages, I came to the realization that I could tell the whole story (from 2 Kings 2 through 8) with just three POV characters: 

Cassia, the little maid from Israel, 
Marcus, an attendant to Captain Naaman,
and Gehazi, servant to the prophet Elisha. 

With three years of full-time resource teaching and two more children added to our family along the way, the journey of this novel has been a ten-year trek that I cannot wait to share with you. I learned so much along the way! 

One of my early readers, an elementary librarian friend of mine, shared: "Just finished it!! Could hardly put it down. Absolutely AMAZING read. Thank you so much for sharing it with me. ... Loved the way you weaved the Bible history together." And later she wrote again saying: "Just so you know, my mind has replayed this story many times since I've read it. Looking forward to buying several of the finished copies." 

I've had a bit of a pause in my writing since completing this novel, and I'm ready to see it in print too! Ready to see the illustrations and cover art that Justin Gerard comes up with! Ready to hear from you about how this story has kindled a desire in your heart to read Scripture with your imagination engaged. Because that is the whole point - to spark into flame a passion for knowing and understanding the Word. 

And even as I move on to my next project (writing a women's devotional through the book of Philippians), my heartbeat remains: 

That the Word would fuel my writing ...
and that my writing would fuel your pursuit of the Word.

Multiplied grace and peace,

michelle 

the importance of accuracy in creative narrative, and a recommendation for isobel kuhn's whom God has joined

In my last post, I shared the book Telling True Stories and discussed the craft of narrative journalism, or creative nonfiction. 

As I read that book, one of the really important themes that emerged was the importance of accuracy in writing. 
  • In his article "The Line Between Fact and Fiction," Roy Peter Clark writes of "two cornerstone principles: Do not add. Do not deceive" (166). 
  • Katherine Boo places "the moral imperative ... with the writer" in her article "Truth and Consequences" (177).
  • And Melissa Fay Greene, in her article "Adventures in History," points out, "When we choose to write nonfiction, our first commitment is not to be readable or to educate or to curry favor with our readers. It is to be as accurate as possible" (89).

As I reread Isobel Kuhn's Whom God Has Joined about John's and her early years of marriage and ministry in China, a scene she shared reinforced and fleshed out this theme. 

Creative writer that she was, Isobel took on the writing of their missionary report letters. And conscientious editor that he was, John took on the marking up and nit-picking of her every word.

Isobel had a way of painting a picture with her words. And John, well, let's just say he wanted to make sure her painting wasn't too impressionistic. 

It was quite a contention between them for a while. But as good marriage partners do, John and Isobel each learned to appreciate the gifts and personality of the other. 

John learned that when Isobel wrote the letters, God used her words to move readers' hearts to prayer and giving. He eventually saw her creative skills as an incredible gift and was able to encourage her in it. 

As for Isobel, she came to see the importance of accuracy in her writing and was able to graciously accept her husband's stricter conscience and accountability. As God moved in her heart later in life to write nine books, Isobel was truly grateful for John's early emphasis on accuracy, knowing that the honest telling of the historical details made her books that much better. 

To this day, Isobel Kuhn is among my favorite missionary authors. Her voice is authentic, her transparent honesty and humor both endearing. 

And I would have quoted her telling of these events, if I could only find my copy of that book. I write from memory here, so I hope I'm getting it right as that would be tragically ironic to write on the importance of accuracy and then not get the details right. I'm still hoping it will turn up. But if not, I will purchase another copy from OMF

I highly recommend Isobel's books, my two favorites being By Searching (Isobel's story of losing her faith and finding it again) and Whom God Has Joined (one of my favorite wedding gifts for couples heading into ministry).

May your writing be honest and your reading stir your soul. 

Multiplied grace and peace,
michelle 



telling true stories: recommended reading

It's always a privilege to sit with someone who has found success in a career that fascinates you, to listen and gather up the gold they're able to share from their experiences. I'll never forget lunch at Schlotszky's with Jamie Langston Turner, one of my writing professors from university. And a writer's conference is always inspirational and memorable, both for the content learned and the personal connections established.




Reading Telling True Stories (Mark Kramer, Wendy Call, editors) is like attending a writer's conference and getting to have personal conferences with professional journalists, creative nonfiction authors, editors, and other publishing gurus - lined up back to back for several days! They've anticipated all your questions - because they've been where you are now. And they've collected their best secrets and painted an honest portrait that's highly instructive.

Frankly, much of their advice for writing about the world is just plain good advice for living in it. Stuff like this: 

* I had to learn to listen, to surrender my place in the moment (Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, 62).
* Every person lives multiple stories... . Choose the right story. (Malcolm Gladwell, 73).
* Look for ways that the outer journey can mirror an inner journey (Adam Hochschild, 78).
* Bring a strong sense of humility to the work (Debra Dickerson, 107).
* Choose what matters (Jon Franklin, 127).
* As I matured . . . I returned to something simpler (Susan Orlean, re: writing style, 159).
* Do not add. Do not deceive (Roy Peter Clark, 166).
* Transcend stereotypes and assumptions (Isabel Wilkerson, 176). 
* Narrative is at once daring and humble (Emily Hiestand, 201).
* You must learn how to take criticism and use it, but you must also learn when to resist criticism (Walt Harrington, 230).
* No matter how massive the event, the grieving is individual (Jacqui Banaszynski, 250).
*Occasional discomfort, both physical and emotional, is one of the burdens of being a narrative writer. ... Every time I push myself out the door, I try to remember that there will be a payoff. ... By forcing myself to stay out there, I usually discover something on which the whole story turns (Susan Orlean, 285). 

And here's a short list from their suggested reading, included at the back of the book, that I'd like to check out - because the best place to get good recommendations on writing is from professional writers: 

* Zinsser, William. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, thirtieth anniversary ed. New York: HaperResource, 2006.
* Burroway, Janet. Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft. New York: Longman, 2002.
* Cheney, Theodor. Writing Creative Nonfiction, Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books, 1987.
* Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, reissue ed. New York: Vintage, 1991.
*Gerard, Philip. Writing a Book That Makes a Difference. Cincinnati, OH: Story Press Books, 2000.
* Dillard, Annie. The Writing Life. Perennial, 1990.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in writing or is just fascinated by the inner workings of the journalistic mind. 

Enjoy!