It’s amazing to look back and see how the Lord worked (very slowly, according to my way of thinking…haha). I started the novel, The Light in Bailey’s Harbor, when I was 16, after taking a trip to Cana Island Lighthouse in Door County Wisconsin. When I toured the lighthouse, I could almost hear the characters whispering to me to tell their story. It was such a moment of inspiration. On our seven hour trip back to Ohio, I began writing.
Though my novel has been edited and re-worked countless times since that day, the premise hasn’t changed. The story is a Christian historical romance set in 1880 and centers around the heroin, Katy Kippling: a hopeless romantic with an exceptional amount of personality. Other characters include: Blake Strawberry, the new lighthouse keeper with an unfortunate last name, who is trying to heal the pain of his past, and Horatio Spafford, the writer of the beloved hymn “It is Well with my Soul,” a life-long friend of Blake’s mother whose song plays a pivotal role in many of the characters’ lives. Through heartaches, laughter, distance, silly mishaps, and tragedy, the resounding message is clear: the Lord can work through every circumstance in your life, enabling you to say, “It is Well With My Soul.”
Over the next few years, I periodically worked on my manuscript when I had the inspiration and the time. Throughout high school, college, my first years of teaching, and marriage, I kept my manuscript alive, sometimes on life support, but alive.
Finally, in 2007, my husband did a wonderful thing. He encouraged me to stay home from teaching and finish my manuscript. I was pregnant with our first child, and I knew that if I didn’t finish my novel before the baby’s birth, I probably wouldn’t. When I look back now, I realize how God used this time to strengthen my writing and to strengthen me for the months ahead.
When I was 5 months pregnant, we went to find out the sex of the the baby. At this appointment, I found out that we were having a boy, but that he also would be born with a unilateral cleft lip. Later, we found out that he had a bilateral cleft palate, as well.
It’s interesting how real the Lord becomes in your life when your hopes and plans have just been erased from the board. When the roar of your rushing, controlled life suddenly comes screeching to a halt, you are left with the overwhelming sound of silence–Godly silence. Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” This verse became my silent battle cry. (To read more about our journey with Carson, click here: Be Cleft-Strong! or The Story of Mr. Wiggles–Having Joy, While Accepting Your Child’s Cleft)
Through my pregnancy, while writing my book, the Lord consistently poured Himself into my writing. As I studied and prayed and begged God for his leading in the lives of my characters, He would show such insight. It’s crazy to say, but I learned so much from the mistakes of my characters and how God brought them through the situations in their lives! As I prayed for the words to heal Katy’s broken spirit, the Lord would breathe words that also soothed my wounds of distrust. As Blake was on the brink of self-destruction, a Still Small Voice would impress a scripture that would also refrain me from launching into the depths of doubt and despair.
Writing this novel was truly a spiritual experience and a gift from the Lord.
I finished my manuscript in 2008 and began submitting query letters to literary agencies in 2009. Literary agencies are the ones who now pitch your book to publishers. Publishers will almost never accept manuscripts that haven’t gone through a literary agent. This process took a year. In 2009, I had a literary agent finally show interest in my novel. But, after reading my proposal, she rejected it, saying it was too long. She recommended cutting the word count, or splitting my novel into two separate books. This was like a cut to the jugular. To separate my novel was a huge deal! I had to re-work the middle to make an ending, and then make a plausible beginning for book #2. I felt like I was starting over, but again, I slowly worked my way through the process.
In 2010, I submitted my proposal again, but this time for the two books. The agent liked this idea and submitted it to various publishers. They, in turn, said the first book was missing the sappy, warm and fuzzy ending that every other book in the world has (not exactly their words), and therefore they had no interest. So, on my birthday, I received an e-mail from the agent stating that I needed to re-work my manuscript. She informed me that they really weren’t interested in it at this time.
I was crushed, of course. I decided to forget about it. Chuck it all. I was through! I dreamed of acting out a scene, like in the movies, where I would hurl my laptop out the window and watch it smash to a million pieces on the driveway below. But I’m way too cheap. I wouldn’t have enjoyed a bit of it, knowing I would be short a laptop and didn’t have the money to replace it. Oh, well. Kudos to the actors who get to smash things! I’m jealous.
It was three years later (yep, THREE) that I received an e-mail from a literary agency, out of the blue, saying they would like to work with me to help publish my novel! I guess my manuscript had all of a sudden sparked someone’s interest. I genuinely believe it had to be the Lord. He certainly works on his own time-table.
The draw-back to the great news was that they informed me that I would need to put my novel back together and cut it down to 100,000 words. AHHHHHH! My words were my babies! I had to cut nearly 50,000 words? My husband couldn’t help but find this amusing. When I got around to joking about it, we laughed that, due to his quiet nature, we weren’t sure if he had even spoken 50,000 words in his lifetime. But again, the Lord works His will, in His own time.
We were just moving into my parents’ house, after selling our house and not finding another one. I was pregnant with my second child, and Carson was now 5. My mom just happens to be an English teacher, so she was able to help me edit my book, as well as my blogs. So, somehow between teaching full-time and dealing with constant morning (afternoon and evening) sickness, we were finally able to cut my word count down to 100,000 words (if you rounded–I hoped they would go by the rounding rules I taught in 3rd grade).
After my literary agent pitched my book to many publishers, finally, in November of 2014, I signed a contract with Mantle Rock Publishing. Although I’d love to make a living by writing, I know this first book won’t make me rich or put me on the #1 Best Seller’s list. But I do know, without a doubt, that the Lord gave me the words and message in this book for a reason. I believe he kept my manuscript alive for some purpose. Remember, it will have been almost 20 years from the time I began writing until the book is published. He has taught me life-lessons I will never forget, and I pray He will use The Light in Bailey’s Harbor to strengthen the faith of many, many others.