Nearly four years have come and gone since the idea for my everlasting novel-in-progress sprang into my imagination. It’s been a full four years – with good times and painful times all mixed together. Beautiful has traveled alongside me in the transition from high school to college. I have known periods of glittering inspiration and all-too-frequent periods of creative drought.
I wrote my first novel in a year and a half. Over and over again I wonder what is taking so long this time. Four long years and I have just over 55,000 words and 200 pages. According to my estimations, the manuscript might be halfway done. It’s easy to get weighed down with frustration and impatience. Fear is my enemy yet also my constant companion. Too often I find myself running away from the writing. Why doesn’t it come as easily this time? What if I’m not good enough? The voices of insecurity and doubt clamor in my heart every time I sit down to the as-yet empty page.
Still, I believe in this story. I believe that Estelle's tale needs to be told.
Beautiful is deeper than any other story I have written. Discovering the words to tell this tale means wrestling with some of life’s deepest questions and facing my own dreams, fears, and insecurities spelled out in ink that hides nothing. It is a terrifying, wrenching experience that can also be exhilarating—a lot like growing up. The girl that began to write this story is not the same girl that writes today. Neither is the story. We’ve come a long way together, Beautiful and I, and this is only the beginning of the adventure.
On this approximate anniversary, however, I want to take a moment to celebrate how far this story has come.
I began to write Beautiful at the beginning of my junior year of high school for a class, Advanced Creative Writing. That class changed my life. I became a serious writer during that semester, learning the tools and mindset that goes into crafting a story. It sparked a hunger within me to become the best writer I possibly could. During my senior year, Beautiful blossomed under the mentorship of Anne Elisabeth Stengl (check out her awarding winning novels here). I say blossomed but I also mean ripped to shreds (in the best possible way). Anne Elisabeth pushed me to stretch my ability and my imagination, to test the limits of the story. I discovered both my strengths and weaknesses as a writer and storyteller, and I would not trade that experience for anything. Beautiful gained clarity and direction in plot and theme while I began to mature as a writer and to grasp just how much work awaited me.
On Beautiful’s fourth birthday I celebrate the teachers who have come alongside me. I celebrate the moments when sweet friends have sat for an hour or more listening as I tried to tell them the story that was welling up within my soul. I celebrate the times when the room fades away, and I walk alongside my characters down castle corridors; but I also celebrate what I’ve learned in the times of pain when just typing the next sentence presented the greatest of obstacles. Most of all I celebrate that God has given me the passion, desire, and ability to wield words.
This story—and all stories—belong to Him, for He is the Great Storyteller.
I look forward to the day when I can share this story with all of you. Until then, how about a sneak peek from the rough draft?
The sky was still dim when Estelle rose. It was early and the birds had not yet begun to sing. Although, Estelle doubted if even the songbirds would dare to lift their chirruping voices on that day of all days, Midsummer's Eve.
Tip-toeing across the floorboards she knew to creak, Estelle pulled open the window shutters. Immediately, the humid air flew in her face and filled her lungs until she felt as though they were filled with cotton. Her skin squirmed under the pressure of the saturated air. Or was it really the sense of breathless, whispered apprehension that cloaked the town?
There would be no ordinary day’s work today. No trace of smoke curled above the blacksmith’s forge. No farmers trekked through the morning mists to the tending of their fields or piled produce for market in the square. Rather, the villagers lingered beneath the concealment of the thatched roofs as if they could hide just a few moments longer from the mountain’s presence.
Ridiculous, surely. The mountain’s shadow crept to their very doorsteps, slipped beneath even the most tightly sealed doors, and settled in their hearts. Yet Estelle could not deny the temptation to slam the shutters closed and do likewise, but now that her name was sealed into the Summons she forced herself to face the towering Mountain of Lamir. That shadow was her new reality, she reminded herself. She may be a fool but she would not also be a coward.
Estelle emerged from the cottage, shutting the door softly behind her and cringing at the relative loudness of the latch slipping into place. She placed a hand protectively over her apron pocket where the forged Summons was concealed inside her book. She did not dare to leave it behind. If her mother should find it…Estelle shuddered to consider the possibility.
An uncomfortable fluttering sensation filled her stomach and rose into her heart as she stepped into the desolate street. She cast glances over each shoulder, searching for peering faces in the windows. The hated feeling of exposure consumed her. There was nowhere to hide, should anyone care to look. The road ran east to west with the emptiness of the sky stretching in an arc overhead. If she had turned to the east she could have walked until the street cast off the crowding cottages and shops, trading them for the adolescent corn that flanked either side. She could have walked until the street turned from dirt to gold, running into the flaming disc of the sun that was just beginning to clear the edge of the horizon. But that was not her course. Turning her back to the sun, Estelle lifted her chin high and made for the westward edge of the village. As the sun consumed the eastern end of the road the western stretch of the same ran first into still shade and finally into the hard mountain slopes. Two opposing forces they seemed at this time of day. At one end the sun casting glittering rays across the fields and at the other the dark of the mountain blotting out all else. Although they might fight for dominance now, the mountain would surely win. The sun might shine bright and distracting in a clear sky, but as the hours progressed it would be drawn silently into the mountain’s shadow until the mountain devoured it entirely, swallowing its light.
The mountain always won.