Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hearts that Survive by Yvonne Lehman - Guest Post

by Yvonne Lehman
Published: February 12, 2012 by Abingdon Press

In April 1912, Lydia Beaumont is on her way to a new life with a boundless hope, against all that Craven Dowd desires for her and himself. Her friendship with Caroline Chadwick deepens as they plan Lydia’s wedding on board the “grandest ship ever built.” Then both women suffer tragic losses when the “unsinkable” Titanic collides with an iceberg and there are only 20 lifeboats for 2207 passengers. They struggle to keep their families and dreams together.

Decades later, Caroline’s granddaughter, working at the museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, plans for the 50th memorial for the sinking and contacts survivors and descendants of survivors. Alan Morris feels like a failure until he discovers he is the descendant of an acclaimed novelist who lost his life when the Titanic sank. He becomes caught up in finding his identity in the past and must come to terms with his present and the meaning of true success.

Characters struggle to answer whether love is more powerful than the pain of loss and learn what it means for a heart to survive.

Guest Post by Yvonne Lehman:

… and you thought the Titanic sank?

Well, so did I. My novel about the Titanic, that is. But here’s how it began to surface.

       Way back in 2006, because of her first-hand knowledge of Nova Scotia and the important role there after the sinking of the Titanic, my novelist friend Peggy Darty suggested she and I write two novellas each for a collection and set it in Nova Scotia. We brainstormed and shared possibilities. However, life and other writing projects took precedence and the collection never materialized. (Well, nothing about writing “materializes.” Have to work at it!!!) We abandoned the idea.
         A few years ago at the Blue Ridge conference an editor mentioned that I might consider writing a book about the Titanic for their company to be published in 2012 in time for the April 15 memorials of the 100th anniversary of the sinking. A novella collection wouldn’t work and I wouldn’t proceed without Peggy. Later, she decided not to proceed with her ideas. I presented ideas to the company, but not a proposal, and continued with other projects.
          Since several books and movies have been done about the Titanic’s sinking, I thought my book should be about survivors after the sinking and worked on a proposal. That didn’t go over at all. Editors wanted another sinking. Feeling like that’s what I was doing, I continued on. Since it’s hard (impossible?) to throw away characters who have come to life, I had to have the afterlife as well as the sinking, so I worked on a proposal that would cover fifty years—before, during, and after the sinking.
           Ah! A proposal. By this time, several editors already had accepted Titanic books from other authors, and another editor kept the proposal for awhile considering it. By the time the “return” (don’t like the word “rejection”) came, I thought my ship had sunk for good. There wouldn’t be time for a company to publish my book before 2012.
           So, as a failure and a reject in May of 2011, I walked down the aisle to the front row of the conference room at Blue Ridge to be introduced with other faculty. I sat by someone whose head was turned in the other direction talking to someone. I was alone, sunken. Then Abingdon editor, Ramona Richards, turned her head and looked at me.
            “Do you have a Titanic book?” I said.
            “No,” she said.
            “You want one?”
            “Yes.”
            “Okay.”
            Then she clarified the yes. “If you can write it by June 15.”
            “Sure,” I said, which meant that’s impossible but I’m already dead in the water with this book, so this is sink or swim and I’ll write it or drown trying.
            Guess what I did that night? Ran home (Well, I drove. Live only a mile or so down the road from Ridgecrest). Printed a hard copy, emailed a copy, emailed my agent. By the next morning Ramona had two emailed copies and a hard copy of the proposal. Don’t think we were anxious or anything!
            The next day, she said, “I like it.”
            What?
            Hey, it’s too late. I can’t write 90,000 words (minus about a 50-page proposal) in four weeks. Ah, no problem. She gave me ‘til July 1. Fortunately, a long time ago God planned a Fourth of July celebration on a weekend so editors wouldn’t be in their office on Friday and the fourth was on Monday, so I had a whole weekend to write thousands and thousands more words. I even got permission to get it there by the 6th of July.
            And I did. With about 30,000 more words than needed and a disclaimer that my ending still needed work (I didn’t mention the whole thing needed work) but I could do that in the revision part.
            Now, how does one write so many words in such a short period of time? The way I’ve done most things. I never had enough sense to know I couldn’t. So I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. Fortunately, I’d already done a lot of research about the Titanic, had books marked up and watched the movies over and over. My characters began to do their thing. I didn’t have time to think a lot.
            I learned the secret to writing a lot of words in short period of time. And that’s to keep the fingers moving on the keyboard. No editing. When I was tempted to stop and think, I didn’t stare at that screen. Instead, I jumped over the clutter in my office floor, waded through the dirty clothes in the hallway, struggled into my bedroom and fell on my knees at my unmade bed and prayed for my characters.
            Now… don’t blame God for some of the things my characters do. He’s divine, but they’re still human. And so am I, so some things will strike some readers the wrong way. He doesn’t write my books. I have to do that, which means they aren’t perfect (shock, shock).
             My characters became composites of many people and many experiences, some mentioned in the acknowledgement section of the book. Since one of my characters is a poet, I asked Dr. Donn Taylor to write a poem for me the way my character would and he graciously did that. I included a poem written by my son-in-law, the faith experience of my son David when he was six years old. I included the experience of a young boy who swam out of the baptistery after being baptized.
            My office is upstairs where I can gaze out the window at the neighborhood and the mountains in the background. That’s a great way to leisurely pass the time without writing, but know everything going on in the neighborhood. But, not having time to gaze, my eyes lit upon the dog next door, so I included my neighbor’s experience of that hurting dog jumping into her car.
            Since much of the “after” section of the book takes place in Nova Scotia, I researched writers groups there and eventually found Janet Burrell who answered questions for me almost daily about places in Nova Scotia that would make my book realistic and authentic.
            Fortunately, I did get the opportunity to edit, change, re-write, fix the ending. Had two weeks to do that and whittle down 20,000 too many words. Another impossible task, but it’s amazing what one can do when one doesn’t have time to… gaze out the window.

About the author:
Hearts that Survive – A Novel of the Titanic is Yvonne Lehman’s 50th novel. She is a best-selling, award winning author who founded and directed the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference for 25 years and now directs the Blue Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist Retreat held annually in October.

She lives in Black Mountain, amid the panoramic views of the Blue Ridge. She mentors students for the Christian Writers Guild. She earned her Master’s Degree in English at Western Carolina University and has taught English and Creative Writing on the college level.

You can visit Yvonne Lehman on her website.

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