Thursday, October 13, 2016

Beast: The Story Behind the Story

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off; my heart was free.
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
--"And Can It Be?"

Thus beats the heart of my novel, Beast, as the story follows the transformation of a feral child into a princess.

It is a journey both difficult and painful, yet beautifully breath-taking at time too. At least it was for me as the author. Yet as wonderful as the story between the covers is, more amazing to me is the story which God has been writing behind the scenes.

No, my story behind the story doesn’t include showy displays of supernatural power. Nor does it contain death-defying experiences. Rather, the path taken may seem mundane and even obvious, with every event and incident able to be explained away. Yet God’s fingerprints are unmistakable. As Christian theologian Alfred Edersheim once wrote:

“It is in the supernatural direction of things natural that we ought most to recognize the direct interposition of the Lord. . . God marvellously uses natural means for supernatural ends.”

And it is this supernatural timing which has marked this book’s journey to publication. Indeed, if I had been left in charge, Beast would have never existed.

For in my mind, this story was too dark to write. Too violent, taking my imagination where I did not want to go. Moreover, no publisher in the Christian market would want to story like that, so why waste the months it would take to write it?

But God is far more stubborn than I am, and in the end, I sat down in January 2008 and wrote the first chapter of Beast. Nothing else I was working on at the time was going anywhere anyway. And looking back now, I think I secretly hoped that if I wrote the first chapter, the story would get out of my system and I would be able to move on to more marketable stories.

Instead, when I read the first chapter to two critique partners, I received a reaction which I had never received before and have never received since:

Dead silence, followed by an in-breathed, “Wow.

At that point I knew I would have to finish the story, wherever it led.

However, I’m terribly insecure, especially when it comes to my writing. So on a last-minute whim, I submitted the first 15 pages of Beast to a competition for unpublished novelists called the Genesis. My hope was to receive some positive feedback.

In typical God-fashion, I received an overabundance of encouragement: Beast won my category in the Genesis.

I was thrilled. Not only because I won, but because the winners of the Genesis, especially at that time, often landed an agent within a year, with a publishing contract right behind. After eight years of work, doors were opening wide to me!

Or so I thought.

Instead, they slammed shut in my face. I submitted Beast to agent after agent, editor after editor. I even had an author give me a direct recommendation into his editor. But whereas before I had received requests to see proposals and full manuscripts, I couldn’t even get past the “Here’s my idea, would you like to see more?” letter. I had entered a drought.

Making things tougher, a new publisher called Marcher Lord formed during this time. What made Marcher Lord special is that they handled only Christian science-fiction and fantasy. A perfect match for my kind of story. Yet each time I considered submitting to them, God blockaded my way.

So months, then years passed. I wrote other stories and tried to sell them as well, with no more success than with Beast. I questioned God—frequently. Should I self-publish? Should I be doing something else entirely? Again the answers came back, “No.”

Many friends during this time commented on my patience. What they didn’t realize is that if I'd had my way, I would have walked away. But God simply gave me no choice in the matter but to keep walking the road He had placed me on. Many days, writing was an act of obedience and nothing more.

Then in early 2014 Marcher Lord sold and was renamed Enclave Publishing. The man who bough Marcher Lord was one of the judges who awarded Beast the Genesis win almost six years before. God finally seemed to say “Yes.” So with bated breath I submitted my novel for review.

And nothing happened. Months passed without a word.

Figuring my submission had been lost in the transition, I decided I would attempt to talk to the new owner of Enclave at a writing conference we would both be attending. I was already scheduled to sit through one of his classes.

To my surprise, the room cleared quickly after class, and soon I was face with the publisher. Prepping myself for a long pitch of Beast, I told him that six years ago he judged a Genesis my manuscript won. Before I could say more, he said, “What did happen to that story?” and then invited me to send in the full manuscript.

I did so. Two more months went by. Then the week of Thanksgiving, I received an e-mail for Enclave.

Beast had been rejected.

I was crushed, and I walked into 2015 more confused and uncertain than ever. For even though I had written other novels since Beast, I still considered it some of my best writing. And if after fifteen years of labor my best writing was still not good enough to be published, would it ever be? Why should I keep writing? Why did God insist on dragging me down a road that went nowhere?

Those first few months of 2015 I struggled deeply. I toyed with switching genres as well as dabbled with the idea of self-publishing again. I even took the time to format and print a rough cut of Beast for a couple of my early readers. If one of them had asked, even teasingly, when they could get another copy, I would have pursued self-publication and this story would probably have turned out much differently. But not one of them asked, God effectively slamming the door shut again.

Then the first weekend in May, I opened up my e-mail. To my surprise, I had received another e-mail from Enclave.

The publisher was apologizing for the long delay in response, for my manuscript had been misfiled, but he wanted to give me an update on my submission: My opening chapters were liked by the beta readers, so the full manuscript was under review!

Never in a hundred years could I have imagined that reversal! God truly can do whatever He wants, no matter how impossible or implausible.

So I went back to waiting. June, July, and August passed. By September I began to get nervous, for I should have heard back long before then. Finally in October 2015, I sent an e-mail asking for a status update, even as I steeled myself for a rejection. For every time I have had this kind of long delay, it always resulted from a lost rejection.

Therefore, with trepidation, I opened the e-mail I received shortly thereafter. But instead of the rejection, the publisher admitted he thought my manuscript had been set aside in error. Soon after he found it on his desk, waiting for his review, and by November I was doing what I thought was impossible a year earlier:

I was signing my first contract for Beast with Enclave.

Moreover, in this delay, God proved His impeccable timing: Normally it takes 12-18 months from contract to publication. But a spot had suddenly opened up, allowing my novel to be fast-tracked for a release under a year’s time.

This route is not one I could have imagined, nor is it one I would have designed for myself. But God is a master of details, and as I stated at the beginning, God marvelously uses natural means for supernatural ends:

For it is only natural I would enter a writing competition. It is only natural I would seek feedback on a new manuscript. Only God could have provided words so perfect that an early draft of an unfinished novel could win a prestigious competition.

It is only natural that the finals of a writing competition would be judged by industry professionals. It is only natural that the judges would like the winning entry enough to publish it. But only God would orchestrate for my entry to be judged by a man who would not own a publishing company until six years later.

It is only natural that I would submit to a company that publishes exclusively Christian science fiction and fantasy. It is only natural that I would talk to the publisher at a writing conference. Only God could cause a publisher to contract the identical manuscript that they had rejected only a year earlier.

Indeed, only God could have used the first fifteen pages of an unfinished manuscript to land a contract seven years later.

Now I don’t know where this story finds you today.

Maybe, like me when I began writing Beast, you’re facing a choice and you’re afraid to go the direction God is leading. Let me encourage you to take the leap of faith and risk. God is greater than whatever you are facing.

Or maybe you’re enjoying a recent success and see doors opening to you, just as I did with my competition win. Praise God for His goodness—all the while holding everything loosely. The God who opens doors also has the right to close them.

Or maybe you feel stuck in a barren wasteland, obedient but fruitless. Persevere! The road is hard, but God is faithful. He has not forgotten you, but has some purpose even for this wilderness.

Perhaps today some of you face impossible circumstances, leaving you at a loss of what to do next, like I felt after that rejection from Enclave. Have hope and wait on God, trusting His timing. While what you face may be impossible from man’s perspective, nothing is impossible with God. He can do whatever He wants whenever He wants however He wants wherever He wants with whomever He wants.

Finally, maybe you, like me, are celebrating today how God has acted on your behalf. Let me encourage you to share your story, proclaiming what God has done.

For to Him belongs all glory, dominion, honor, and power, forever and ever!


Unknown said...

Chawna, your Story is truly inspirational. I believe that I read on your website that you are in your 20's. Well take it from someone in her 60's that you are absolutely correct. All throughout my life God has open and closed doors, and taken me for quite a tremendous ride. I have only begun to understand why he has done this and continues to do what he does with and for me in love and care! The wisdom and insight you display in your Post is both astounding and glorious! I look forward to getting to know you and your Writings!

Chawna Schroeder said...

Thanks for your sweet words, Mary! God does take us on tremendous rides, doesn't He? But I know how often I lose sight of that in the midst of the ups and downs, so I wrote this down for my own benefit. If God can use the story to encourage others as well, all the better!