Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Loose Ends (and a couple of Plot Spoilers)

[images by stacy] flickr creative commons

Last week, a reviewer who’d just finished reading House of Mercy contacted me and asked if there’s a sequel in the works. “I just have so many unanswered questions,” the reviewer said.

“Well, I’m not one for tidy endings,” I replied.

“I’m not either, but I seriously thought the book was missing pages.”

I have a feeling I’m going to get this reaction from a lot of HOM readers. If you’re one of them, maybe I can answer (in very general terms) some of the unanswered questions here. If you’re not, wow—you’re more easily satisfied than I am! And if you haven’t read the book yet, this is your plot spoiler warning.

Q: Will there be a sequel?

A: I hope so. HOM was designed to be the first of two books, but it will not be the next book I write. The publisher and I have mapped out a plan for several more stand-alone titles before I return to Beth and Jacob’s story. It may be that the sequel takes the form of downloadable novella rather than traditional bound book. I just haven’t decided yet. (Which would you prefer?)

Q: Is the Blazing B lost or saved?

A: In the draft of HOM that I turned in to the publisher, the ranch was saved. Instead of a wolf den on the property, Wally and Beth finally located Wally’s lost lock box and the truth about Wally’s pre-brain-damaged past: he was wealthy beyond measure and had squirreled away his wealth from greedy relatives. Wally could think of no one more deserving of the keys to his international safe deposit box than Abel Borzoi’s daughter. Levi was foiled, all was well.

The longer I sat with this ending, the more it soured in my stomach. Because if HOM is a story about anything, it’s about whether a person can believe God is good in all circumstances, especially when we don't get what we want or think we need from him. So by ending with the miraculous answer to prayer, I felt I was undermining my own question. Faith comes easily when our suffering ends. But what if it doesn’t end on this side of heaven? I just couldn’t let Beth off the hook. Her life has been forever changed by the events of HOM. She needs to reprocess her own beliefs about God in light of those unexpected and amazing miracles, which are greater than the salvation of the ranch.

Q: How did Jacob get Miracle Mattie’s saddle? And why was he happy Beth stole it?

A: House of Mercy is Beth’s story; any sequel will be Jacob’s. I’m busting to tell you more about Jacob’s past, what happened to his mother, his family connections to the Wulffs, the significance of that saddle in his own history, how his love for Beth blossomed, and why he is such a patient man. But I’ll have to beg your patience, just as Jacob asked for Beth’s. HOM is already a long novel, and more slowly paced than my others. To tell Jacob’s story too would have been too much for this first installment.

Q: Does Beth ever figure out her healing gift? It seems she's just growing into it.

A: Unpacking our personal giftedness is a lifelong process, and in Beth's case, she's only had a few weeks to start sorting through all the layers of hers. I can't promise she'll ever "figure it out" any more than the rest of us do, but I too am curious about where this unusual path might take her.

What other questions do you want a HOM sequel to answer? 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How the Wolf Found Me

The wolf at the center of my latest novel plays such an important role that when the cover was being designed, I asked my publishing team to include a wolf instead of a horse. They hesitated, then said, “These days, wolves say ‘paranormal romance.’” Of course, House of Mercy isn’t that type of book. I felt a little silly for not thinking of this obvious detail and even spent a short time wondering if I’d made a mistake in choosing a wolf for the story.

But C. S. Lewis has forever tabs on lions, and Colorado doesn’t have dragons, and black stallions have a kind of literary magic that I hold sacred for another place and time. And after all, the wolf chose me.

The earliest incarnations of my manuscript had no wolf. A variation on the scene where Beth heals the antelope—now chapter seven—were the first pages I wrote, and the wolf wasn’t there. He wasn’t even in my mind. Until …

Beth Borzoi, the young rancher at the center of this tale about a search for miracles, was originally a healer who couldn’t heal herself. She would have lupus, I decided, a chronic autoimmune disorder in which the body’s hyperactive immune system attacks healthy tissues. Lupus (which is Latin for “wolf”) is so named for the butterfly-wing rash that straddles a patient’s nose and cheeks and resembles the markings on the muzzle of a wolf. While trying to see this similarity for myself in online wolf images, I discovered how little I knew about these wild canines, including this detail: gray wolves were driven out of Colorado by ranchers and poachers before World War II and are only just now, as an endangered species, beginning to return to the Rocky Mountain states.

I abandoned Beth’s illness and issue after the similarly themed film Sympathy for Delicious was released, and although her story changed, the wolf stuck with me. I had always assumed wolves lived here in Colorado, though I’d never seen one in the wild. I was captivated by their relationship with humans—some hostile, some protective, some indifferent—and by the mythical mystery that surrounds these majestic animals. The fact that they are slowly, almost secretly, making a comeback gave me a thrilling kind of spiritual hope.

It seemed to be the right metaphor for the triumph of God's goodness in a broken world.

My three-year-old son was the one who helped me decide to make the wolf a character in House of Mercy. One morning we looked out our dining-room window and down into a neighbors’ yard. They were playing with a massive German shepherd mix.

“Isn’t he pretty?” I said to my son. “He’s big, like a wolf.”

His surprising reply was, “Is it an angel?”

He and I hadn’t talked about angels before, and I wasn’t sure what made him connect these two unrelated beings. But I didn’t want to pop his idea bubble. I said,

“Do you mean a wolf angel?”

“But it’s a dog,” he said, and I deflated a little. Then he finished, “A dog angel.”

Maybe it was. I still wonder.

That was when I decided that House of Mercy would get its supernatural wolf, though he isn’t an angel. I think of him as a spiritual guide, a Holy Spirit type, full of mystery and comfort in the midst of uncertainty. I hesitate to draw connections to the true Spirit of God too tightly—who am I to presume?—but the wolf of Beth’s story represents the way God often works in my own life: Slowly. Subtly. Dangerously. Daringly. Meaningfully. Personally.

Do you see any similarities between Beth’s experience with the wolf and the way God reveals himself to you? I’d love to hear the details.
With my husband Tim (he's the one on the right) and a gray wolf
at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center.