Recently, I was asked how I, being a 55 year-old male, managed to create the heroic female character, Maggie Steele, in my inspirational new teen sports novel, Maggie Vaults Over the Moon.
My answer was that I listened, and Maggie told me what to write, whispering every word, line by line, page by page.
Before embarking on a quest to write my first novel, I read several books and sought the advice of a successful author friend. She told me to ignore the clamoring experts, and just start writing. She advised me to expect characters to appear, and that when they appeared, to allow them to tell me their story without restricting them. So, in the silence and solitude of a predawn morning in August, 2011, I opened a blank composition notebook with pen in hand, and began to listen. In my left-handed scrawl, one word followed another, as the resilient, heroic character of Maggie Steele relayed an amazing story for to me to tell the world.
Maggie met me every morning in the silent place we shared, describing the most painful year of her life. As a former newspaper reporter, I found it easier to quote her verbatim, in first-person. She recounted the scenes as they’d unfolded, as vividly and personally as anyone I’d ever interviewed in my journalism career.
I’d experienced what you might call glimmerings of creativity while writing feature stories, but this experience was more than a brief blast of creative energy; it was an extended epiphany. Truthfully, Maggie and I were so in tune with each other, I felt more like a scribe, as she used me to tell her story.
A wise person once wrote, “Creation begins in mind as a divine idea…. With a flash of insight and inspiration, dreams and desires manifest into thoughts and words…” I can attest that, for me and Maggie, this was true.
Our collaboration continued every day without fail for three months. I recorded what Maggie told me as accurately as I could, in her own words, just as if I were gathering quotes for a newspaper article. By the time she’d told me the entire story, I’d filled five notebooks, front and back pages, with more than 97,000 words.
Journalists are supposed to be dispassionate, detached, and not too emotionally involved with the sources they cover. But as an author, this was different. As the hours, days and weeks went by, hearing Maggie tell her story became so painful, and ultimately, so wonderful, that there are pages in those notebooks stained with tears of sorrow and joy.
When I was a reporter working on a deadline, my habit was to type a story into a word-processor and then to self-edit as long as time allowed before surrendering it for final editing. But if I was going to record Maggie’s story just as she told it, I would have no time to go back and edit what she was sharing with me. My wife, Claire, suggested that I write the whole story out in longhand, instead of trying to type into the computer, without editing anything.
I have my wife, Claire, to thank for allowing Maggie’s story to become so fully formed. Qualifying for sainthood, she transcribed my daily scrawls into the computer at night after long days of teaching sixth grade. She typed in every one of those 97,000 words, just as I’d written them. In the process, she also fell in love with Maggie Steele.
When that first long draft was printed, it totaled more than 400 pages. With Maggie watching over my shoulder, I (we) edited it down to just over 63,000 words, just the right length for young adult readers. (The book was published in October, 2012, through Create Space and Amazon.com.) The final version is a quicker read, capturing Maggie’s story without losing its essence or emotion; allowing the readers to fill in the details with their own imaginations.
To me, the mechanical details are secondary to the deeper mystery of how and why Maggie picked me to tell her story.
When I’m asked what my book is all about, I often say, “It’s a book about girl’s pole-vaulting.”
But that’s not all it is. Maggie Vaults Over the Moon is also a story of overcoming life’s obstacles, expressed through the metaphor of pole-vaulting . Maggie told me to call it, “A Triumph Over Gravity.” And so it is.
Inscribed at the beginning of the novel are these words from spiritual teacher Ernest Holmes:
“But always there is that Eternal Voice, forever whispering in our ear, that thing which causes the eternal quest, that thing which forever sings and sings.”
How was I able to capture the character of Maggie Steele?
I listened to her Voice, whispering in my ear.
That listening has changed both of our lives, forever.