Monday, December 13, 2010

DESPITE ALL ODDS-The Challenges and Triumphs of Writing a Multi-Volume Epic

The blog tour for "Oh, Say Can You See?" officially kicks off today. As bloggers/reviewers were preparing their articles and interviews, author Braden Bell asked one question that required a bit of introspection:

"You don't write an epic multi-volume historical series casually. What was it that made you want to write this story, and what has kept you going in spite of challenges?"

There have been some daunting challenges, and years of investment in this series, which makes me wonder how many times my family has likely revisited that same question. Such a project is a family-affair, because what is required to complete such a task requires great understanding, patience and sacrifice from everyone who must pick up the family-slack while the author is preoccupied with her work.

I've been living with Free Men and Dreamers rattling around in my head for well over a decade now. In 1997, two of my boys attended EFY, a youth summer church camp, at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia, and during that week I feel in love with the historic old city. Despite the crush of tourists, there's a reverent spirit there. I felt I was in a sacred place. I've felt that same spirit in the historic city of Philadelphia and at Fort McHenry and Hampton.

Right then and there, I knew I needed to capture the spirit I was feeling by writing a book. On a subsequent visit, I went to the Visitor's Center and picked up a book about the culture of early America to use as a reference, but I received word that "Unspoken" was being picked up by Covenant, and I set the historic project aside.

A year later, I returned to the project and cracked open my reference book, and when I thumbed through it, I noticed the historian had referenced Lucy Mack Smith and her family as examples of the time period. I was astonished, and for the first time, I began to see them not only figures from LDS Church history, but as historical figures. It sounds simplistic, but this was a huge shift in my thinking. It made perfect sense of course. Joseph Smith's family has been the subject of two hundred years worth of scrutiny, until they are arguably the most documented family of their day.

I knew a great deal of that history, but my awe and respect for Joseph Smith and his family left me feeling inadequate to write about them, so I leapt my manuscript's setting to 1850 Maryland to purposely avoid events in Joseph Smith's life. While my editor was intrigued with the first draft, she sent it back with the advice to broaden the story and tighten up the history.

I began teaching the Doctrine and Covenants course in Early Morning Seminary, and I read several other books about the Smiths, including Lucy's biography of Joseph, There I found a line about Lucy's brother Stephen Mack, an officer in the War of 1812. Again, the connection to the Smiths amazed me. I realized that Joseph Smith was a child during the war! I had never made that connection before. As a Marylander, I had been weaned on War of 1812 history--the Battle of Baltimore and "The Star-Spangled Banner" story, but I had never connected Joseph Smith and his family to this portion of history. I began years of meticulous American history research and correspondence with some of the great historians in the region. It was fascinating. Among that research, I found references to typhoid outbreaks among the troops which were settled along the Canadian border and the Atlantic Coast. And who lived in the middle? The Smiths, whose own struggles with the disease, including a near-miraculous surgical story about Joseph's leg, have been well-documented and retold!

On and on, I found connection after connection between the Smiths and American history, until I could see God's continuous hand not only in America's founding, her preservation, and in her preparation to become the cradle of the Restoration. I felt compelled to back my story up and refocus it on this 1812 generation, the first American-born generation, comprised of the children of the Founding Fathers and the generation being prepared to receive the great spiritual awakening that was about to flood forth.

This project has felt like a calling, compelling me to continue on with the story despite all odds, at times financing the project with my husband's support. The final volume will be released in the late spring, mere months before the commencement of the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and "The Star-Spangled Banner." With the help of the Spirit, I hope readers will feel Free Men and Dreamers testifies of God's love for this country, and of our duty to defend its founding principles.

I neglected professional advice when told to lay this project aside and move on, but I simply couldn't. The spirit of the project compelled me on. I hope readers will feel that same spirit too.

Today, Braden Bell posted his review, the first stop in the "Oh, SAY CAN YOU SEE?" blog tour. Stop by, read his review, and enter to win a free book or the lovely bicentennial necklace I designed for the book's launch. Thanks!

Here are the rest of the stops on the blog tour:

December Blog Tour Dates

Braden Bell's Blog at


Tristi Pinkston's blog at

Marsha Ward, "Writer in the Pines" Blog at

Rachelle Christensen, "Rachelle's Writing Spot" Blog at

Anna Del C. Dye's Blog at

Stephanie Abney, at "Stephanie Says So" Blog at

Lynn Parsons

Susan Dayley's "Looking Out My Back Door" Blog at and

and Marilynn Bunderson's Blog at

Liz Adair at "Liz Sez"
and Valerie Ipson's "Of Writerly Things" blog at

Kathi Peterson at "Kathi's Writing Nook"

Follow the instructions, leave a comment and you’ll be entered to win an autographed copy of "Oh Say Can You See?" or any of the previous books in my Free Men and Dreamers series.
All the weekly entrants will also be eligible to win the grand prize—a signature silver bicentennial necklace designed by me and created by Sterling Obsessions specifically for the release of the "Oh Say Can You See?"

Merry Christmas!

No comments:

Post a Comment