I don’t really know where to start this story. Julie Andrews says we should start at the very beginning. It’s a very good place to start.
So maybe I should start in 1995, when I was a junior in high school and I visited Kiev, Ukraine for the first time. While there, I was invited to dinner at the friend of a friend’s house to meet her grandmother, a World War II survivor.
That dinner changed the course of everything.
I sat at the table of a small, grey haired babyshka named Maria who told me her story of survival in a German slave labor camp. Maybe it was the twinkle in her eye, or the way the light glimmered in her silvery hair, but something happened inside me that evening.
That was the night I fell in love with the Ukrainian people – the night the story was born.
But maybe I shouldn’t start there. Maybe I should start 1999. I was twenty-one, and I sat behind the desk as the professor explained the goal of our two semester course.
We would leave Baylor with a finished novel.
He encouraged us to begin brainstorming what we’d like to write about, but I already knew. I wanted to tell the story of Ukraine, of the devastation at Babi Yar, the darkness of those desperate years, and the partisans who pushed back against the Germans.
I also wanted to encapsulate Maria in a character, right down to the way she tutted over a plate of food.
Of course, I could easily start the story in 2003, when my mom and I (and my five-months pregnant belly) hopped a couple of planes and returned to Ukraine where we would tour the country for a month interviewing countless veterans as I continued on my quest to publish this book of stories.
I already had a publisher lined up at that point. It would all end up falling through at the last minute, but the stories I pulled in that month would simmer a little longer. They waited for me through the birth of three children.
The story needed me to tell it, but first I had to live a little.
Technically, I could start the story in 2011 when I finally found the voices of each character. I knew, in the flourish of a few sentences, that the book was taking the shape it was always intended to take.
I tapped away at the stories in the tiny slivers of my day. Nap time. Early morning before the kids woke up. The occasions now and then when I was able to sneak away and write. It was a slow process.
I guess I could start the story in 2012 when I attended the Blissdom conference, and I sat in Jeff Goin’s break out session on writing. I sat at a table with Anne of The Modern Mrs. Darcy, Megan from Sorta Crunchy, Ruth from The Better Mom and Laura, the Hollywood Housewife, and I sort of vomited out my dream of finishing this book and having it published.
They were all beyond encouraging, and supportive, and genuinely sweet. And perhaps slightly baffled by my tangle of words trying to explain my need to finish this project?
I can’t tell the story without looking at 2013 when we saw the collapse of our adoption. Writing was the only thing that pulled me out of depression. Tapping into the heartache of others healed my own wounded heart. I typed THE END in 2013.
The only other place I could see beginning this story is last fall. Two years after finishing the book, I still hadn’t been picked up. I’d queried so many agents and publishing houses, and was always met with the same comment:
“Love the concept, and the writing is great. But fiction is a hard sell.”
So I waited, and I sent more query letters. So many queries. And last fall, someone took a chance on me. A literary agent saw potential, and she appreciate my passion. She took the manuscript cautiously, and two weeks later I received a text:
“Just finished your book and WOW can you tell a story. We’re going to see what we can do with this.”
But that’s a lot of beginnings, so maybe I should just begin with the phone call I took three weeks ago with Kregel Publications when they told me they would be publishing my book next spring.
Did you hear that?!
My novel will hit bookshelves in the Spring of 2016.
After our conversation, in which we spoke of the novel and topics for potential future books, I hung up and walked out to the kitchen. As soon as I saw Lee, I burst into tears.
It all felt overwhelming. Twenty years of dreaming, of writing, of perfecting and refining the story all came to fruition in a minutes long phone conversation.
I’m a novelist.
I can’t wait to share this book with you all. Stay tuned for more information!
(And for more on my publishing journey, check out this post where I share the news that my second book will release in September next year. 2016 is going to be crazy!)