Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A to Z: G - The Genesis of Grace Leads Home

It all started with an idea...

Back before I graduated from college, I was struck with an idea...my first one of this nature. It was so small and, at the time, lacked substance. Incredible to think what it has manifested itself into these last...fifteen years. Yes, fifteen.

My idea then was about three boys who found themselves in alternate worlds. That was it.

I knew something was there. Something more than just a poem - of which I had written plenty. This felt different. I could feel that this idea could expand beyond a few stanzas. Hence, my birth as a novelist. Actually, I'm getting ahead of myself. It would transform into that later.  This was going to be my first screenplay. Along with it came my first experience of writer's block. I didn't know what to do with it. My first struggle was figuring out how did these boys discover their new destinations. And more importantly, what they did when they got there.

Time passed - this becomes a recurring theme with bringing this story to fruition. Keep in mind that it's now fifteen years later and Barnes and Noble has yet to place it on their shelves. Something about having to be published - or some nonsense like that.

My best friend, Dustin, and I had our first meeting of the minds as writers sometime in 1999 at his home in Boalsburg, PA. Along with my duffle bag staples, this time I brought along a board and easel. The first notes for what would become not only a screenplay, but a 364 Microsoft Word - page novel, would be made that very day.

We both shared ideas for stories we've been thinking about. His, if I remember correctly, dealt with a baseball-Civil War theme. We chose my untitled idea and the notes began. Dustin drew two vertical lines down the white board dividing it into three equal parts. I'm sure I have notes from this initial meeting somewhere in my junkyard we call a laundry room (I want to say it's ten rows back, 5 rows in and eight boxes high sitting under and Excer-Saucer that hasn't been used in years), but the only other thing I remember is that we broke the story up into three themes. Each boy and their impending alternate worlds would deal with one of these. Dustin wrote Faith, Hope and Love on the board. And so it began. I believe during that meeting we came up with the names for our young adventurers. The cabin (Yes, the one that I wrote about for the letter C) provided pivotal moments in our lives. So why not have our three boys be loosely based off of us? Hence, Gary became Kerry. Dustin donned Duncan...later changed to Daulton and I, Ryan, became Riley, the trios leader so-to-speak. Remember, I said this was loosely based on us. I laugh at the thought of me being any kind of leader down at the cabin. I spent my time during rounds of Poker burning flies by candle flame. But, I digress.

Welcome 2000! Dustin's New Year's resolution was to spend more time with me. I was living in a basement of a house off Hollar Ave. in Shippensburg PA. We still refer to it as the dungeon. There is just no other name for it. First, we needed a title. A working one, at least. We each came into the meeting with ideas for it. I began. Mine were mostly...okay, they were all, based off U2 lyrics. Can't go wrong with those lyrics. Then Dustin shared. We each remember this a little differently, but I think the very first idea he had was the one that stuck ever since. He mentioned he was reading over the words to the song, Amazing Grace. The third stanza has these words, "And Grace Will Lead Me Home." He read it. I loved it. And after trimming it down to three words, we kept it.

The next few years saw our story slowly grow into a completed screenplay. We had some "professional" feedback which wasn't what we wanted to hear. But, we also had some friends read it and it struck a chord. One friend in particular made notes, asked questions and basically treated it like a college course. Regardless of which side the opinions fell, we believed in the story.

With life doing what it does best, getting in the way, it took about three years to complete. We used "the cabin" as the focal point of the mystery behind the alternate worlds. We also knew what kind homes the boys were coming from. Kerry was dealing with a fatherless home with an a very unhealthy mother. Duncan/Daulton was battling a relationship with his father ever since his mother was killed in a car accident. Riley lived with only his grandfather and worried every day about what life would be like once his grandfather had passed. 

In each of their worlds, Duncan/Daulton was a preacher that loses his faith while Kerry was a caretaker for a young boy with parents with MS. Riley was the World War II hero who experiences a longer life in his alternate world than the other two. Each alternate world would provide their own beginning, middle and end. We felt, and still do, that it was a solid story.

Enter 2004. I went to Kinkos and had the screenplay bounded and printed to give to a few people, including Dustin. Other than that, the screenplay was finished. However, I had not once stopped thinking about the story. It was only a couple of years ago, where I finally felt I had incorporated all of the ideas into the story that I felt should be in there. Even today a few creep in. Grace Leads Home is literally a part of me. I wonder if this is normal for a writer.

With all the ideas that I had I felt there needed to be more. I finally had decided, eleven years ago, to turn our screenplay into a novel. I had the outline already printed and bounded. All I had to do was fill in the gaps. That's exactly what I did and I loved every minute of it. I wasn't the most disciplined writer and in 2006 I became a father. Time was hard to come by and when there was time...I slept.

Jump ahead to 2010. It was January and I was determined not only to make a resolution, but to stick with it. I told myself Grace Leads Home was going to get finished. I wrote every day. I had never been more disciplined. By the end of the month I had written about 70% more of the novel - that I had started in 2004. It was finished! My first novel!

Then Angie came in and said she was pregnant. That's another story.

For the next three to four years I would continue to edit and revise. This story was so alive in me I couldn't "put it down." 

The adventures of these boys grew and grew. GLH is deeply layered with many characters and stories. The cabin itself even has a story. 

It's now 2015 and Grace Leads Home is yet to be published. I haven't taken enough steps to do so. But that will change. I'm determined, just like I was back in 2010, to get this story out into the world.

Trust me, you'll know when that happens.

Here's a synopsis that I wrote a few years ago:

Three friends, united by real world problems, find a mysterious cabin filled with artifacts in the middle of the woods. After daring each other to spend the night in its presence, they each are transported to separate alternate worlds. No longer twelve-years-old, with his wife in a coma, Riley must come to terms with his best friend dying in Pearl Harbor. Kerry finds himself taking care of an MS couple while helping their son steer his life in a positive direction. Daulton, a pastor, with his faith in a mire, walks out on his church only to meet interesting people in unusual places which help readjust his life. Upon their return to the cabin the next morning, they quickly realize that although their physical appearance has not changed, mentally and emotionally they have aged a life-time.

* Sorry for any confusion (if you were one of the ones that read this earlier). The following excerpt does not have the three main characters in it. In the novel GLH, there is a story explaining the birth of the cabin in which the three boys come across that launches them into their adventures. This particular excerpt prefaces the main story involving the boys by introducing us to Elmer, August and in a way, J. Root. Elmer sells the land of which the cabin will eventually be built to August. Elmer is also one of the few people that has experienced alternate worlds. In one of those worlds, he meets a man by the name of J. Root. J. Root...well, let's just say he has a special connection to the alternate world experience. Which is why Elmer knows the book is not fiction at all.

Please enjoy an excerpt from Grace Leads Home:

“That’s quite an interesting book,” an unrecognizable voice called out.

          He inhaled sharply. With his reverie halted, his balance was momentarily lost. Regaining his composure, he realized the voice was McDonegal’s.
“Forgive me,” Elmer spoke, “but no matter how I approached you or spoke to you, you would have had the exact same reaction.” Elmer cocked his head as he gazed into August’s stunned expression. “You’ve been standing there frozen as still as an icicle for at least ten minutes.”

          “I’m sorry, no, no, I uh…umm.” August paused and looked down and before saying another word, or at least attempting to, closed the book with both palms of his hands. “I…think I know about some of this book or at least heard about it. I was remembering back…” His voice faded away before ending his sentence. The reverie’s grip was still evident.

          “I know the book very well. A fascinating true tale. My absolute favorite.”

          “True? This is nonfiction?”

          “I am quite certain of it.”

          “Why is it in the fiction section?”

          “Read it. No person in their right mind would ever believe something so…shall I say, out of this world, could ever happen.”

          “Why do you believe it?”

          “Because I met the man who wrote it.”

          “You met…” he looked down and turned the book to see the front cover, “…J. Root?”

          “An encounter I will not only ever forget, but one that changed my entire outlook on life and how I interact with people.”

          August brushed his hand across the front of the book before looking directly into his new friend’s eyes. “How do you know what he wrote is true just because you met him?”

          Elmer McDonegal returned the deep stare and spoke softly and slowly as if to help August realize how important it was for him to understand. “Because, August, it doesn’t matter that I met him. It only matters where I met him.”

          August stood blinking trying to make sense of everything. “Where did you meet him?"

          “May I ask you an important question?” Elmer wasn’t going to give him the straight answer he was looking for. There had to be a sense of mystery for people to appreciate and more importantly believe.

          “Of course.”

          “Do you believe in the extraordinary?”

          “I suppose if…”

          “Perhaps you aren’t the right person for me to have asked the question,” Elmer said with a small dose of reverse psychology.

          “Why? What do you mean?” August asked with desperation.

          “My question, Mr. Hopkins, is one of the few true yes or no questions in this world. If you have to think about it, you’ve already given your answer. You either believe or you do not.”

August thought back for a moment on all of his recent conversations and recalled feeling that a special reason and purpose was behind them all. A few weeks ago his answer to Elmer’s question would have been a profound no. But, here, in the library, with his skin tingling and his heart rate steadily increasing, his answer was different. It only takes a moment, one incident, to change the course of people’s lives. That’s all it takes to make them into different people.

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