If a picture is worth a 1,000 words…

The Summoned Guest - Book Cover
The Summoned Guest - Book Cover

Here’s a picture worth 170,000 words! My, oh my. 170,000 memories. 170,000 roadblocks and detours. 170,000 ways to find out how strong you are.

When I first thought that maybe I should be a writer I was in my early 30’s and had finished 2 Master’s degrees. My husband and I were only married a couple of years and we were at a Barnes & Noble dreaming as newlyweds do, drinking coffee and reading. It was 2000 and I stumbled upon Stephen King’s newly published On Writing. Reading that book was one of those significant life moments for me. It had never occurred to me to be a professional writer. And then it did.

Stephen King knew writing was his path since he was a kid and it was a page turner to read his story. My story is different. Each of ours is.

For over a decade after reading On Writing  (which I’ve read many times since), I debated whether to write fiction or non-fiction. Yep, a decade. Granted, I was busy with a thing called life, not just sitting on an island, drinking mojitos and spending my hours deciding if I should write fiction or non-fiction. As the internet and self-publishing emerged, it became clear that a writer no longer had to choose a genre for life. Thank goodness, or who knows, I might still be debating this dilemma.

In 2012 I started my first novel. It took 6 months to “find” my story. I jotted down ideas, tinkered, scrapped ideas. Then one drizzly day, on my birthday in May, I was waiting in the car for my husband as he bought himself a cigar. And that was the day. Perhaps fate intervened or stars aligned. Or my prayers were answered. Maybe my brain made the connections I was trying to coax it to make. Maybe all of that. Whatever the reason, the story came to me. Like it was waiting to.

This post is 3 ½ years down the line, so feel free to conclude that it took me a while to figure out how to write a novel. Then some more time to go about the actual business of writing and editing. In that time there were several hurdles in my life and yet the novel continued. Perhaps shelved a few months when things were too busy from time to time. Then the infamous “The End” came. The edited, bonafide “The End” of my first novel. Credits – roll please.

Then it was time for the book cover design. Quite thrilling really. My sister and I toyed with the cover designs that were in our mind. We wanted the cover to capture some of the feel of the novel. When Steph’s Cover Design sent us her awesome final copy, The Summoned Guest came to life.

For me the cover feels like a bridge to my readers. Readers don’t exist when you’re a new writer. Though you feel their presence. Or think you do:) Your future readers have no idea that you’re thinking of them even before they read the first page of your work. We think of our readers each day we care to write or edit well, and when we wonder how they’ll enjoy the story. Or how they will write and tell us they didn’t.

One of the main characters in this novel is named Muriel. Muriel was initially inspired by a Christian author I read over the years, Anne Ortlund. Several years ago she offered in-home retreat type of programming. As I was deciding the next step in my counseling and writing careers, I thought wouldn’t that be a good thing to do? Unfortunately, I never got the opportunity. During the course of my writing The Summoned Guest, Anne Ortlund passed away.

I remember as a college student reading one of her books and reading for the first time that she addressed her readers as Dear Reader, similar to Stephen King’s affectionate Constant Reader. I felt like one of Anne’s dear readers when I read her books. I remember in her first book she said she prayed for her readers even though she didn’t have any at that time. Readers did find her books. She said she thought of and prayed for her readers. Then as a reader I also thought of her, and prayed when I heard she had died. Wonder what she thinks about inspiring the beginnings of a fictional character? The connection between author and reader continues after death. As it does with all artists who touch us. When I marvel at a Dickens’ passage or get creeped out by an Agatha Christie, I like to think they know.

One way that Anne Ortlund’s impact remains with me is that now that I am a writer, Dear Reader is what I will call my readers. It suits me. So, yes, Anita, my lovely sister and Ideal Reader, today that may be only you and the wonderful circle of first readers I’ve been so blessed to have. Tomorrow, as others may read and I continue to write and they continue to read, it’ll be a small community. A community that I, like every writer, already appreciate and care about.

Can a picture be worth 170,000 words? For me the cover of my debut novel evokes the reality that as a writer I have created an entity that is altogether its own thing. A novel. In this case, The Summoned Guest. It was both fun and hard to write. The journey was exhilarating and tiring. I wrote it for myself, yes. But it was also written for you, Dear Reader. And it’s all dressed up in its cover, waiting for your discovery. I hope you enjoy where it takes you.

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