Tuesday, April 19, 2011

PPW Conference Countdown: Book Ideas by Linda Rohrbough

When you’re an author, people tend to be curious about how you come up with ideas for books. In looking back on my first novel—which is finally being published after a dozen years of work—I realized the idea process was convoluted indeed. Coupled with my early inexperience, it created a book that was a very hard sell.
In 1999, I started work on The Prophetess One: At Risk (the original title was The Prophetess I: Payback). The book was sparked by a horrible tragedy in my husband’s family: his nephew, fifteen-year-old Daniel Rohrbough, was gunned down at Columbine. As the events unfolded, I watched the local news in Dallas, stunned. It seemed so surreal, because I grew up near Columbine.
My husband’s family called us that evening to tell us that Danny was missing, and they asked us to come. We immediately jumped on a plane. I hadn’t seen Danny in awhile, so it was a shock to see him during the viewing at the funeral home. Danny looked just like my husband when we first met (I was fourteen, he was fifteen). I had trouble staying in the room with Danny’s casket.
In the days, months, and even years that followed, several curious, seemingly unrelated events weaved their way together in my mind and heart, eventually leading to what will soon become my first published novel.
First, there was the unexplained, unheralded presence of General Colin Powell at the Columbine memorial service. He did not speak and was not featured in any way. I could not understand his connection with the events at Columbine, when his arena always seemed to be international relations, particularly with the Middle East.
As I studied the news reports in my spare time, a few facts stood out. First, the Columbine shooters bragged theirs would be the first of many such events. And they were right. As more shootings occurred, I followed those news reports, too.
Klebold and Harris were also the first of many school and church shooters with Internet access, who low-level formatted the hard disk drive of their computers. Now I’ve written computer upgrade books, so I know this is no easy task. It indicates serious determination to wipe out all data on a hard disk drive. Yet the Columbine shooters had posted their plans on the web, as did several other shooters. So what was it they were trying to erase?
As I followed the reports and talked with people, I found out that in two cases, the authorities got to the computers and stopped the low-level format before it was complete. One was in a school shooting in Paris; the other was the case of a young man in Florida who flew his dad’s plane into a building. In both cases, e-mails were found that were traced back to Al-Qaeda operatives. Then I remembered the fact that officials investigating Columbine looked unsuccessfully for months for third-party involvement in the year-long planning of the shooting.
As these pieces started to come together, I felt an uneasiness I couldn’t put my finger on, as if there was a spiritual aspect to all of this.
I made frequent driving trips to Denver from Dallas when I lived in Texas. On one trip back to Dallas, I decided on impulse to turn off at a memorial marker on a deserted stretch of 1-25 north of Trinidad. I’d seen this marker before, but this was the first time I decided to stop.
It turned out to be a memorial to the Ludlow Massacre. Now I grew up in Colorado, studied Colorado history, and never heard anything about this. The memorial marks the spot where two women and eleven children—families of miners—were trapped in underground housing and burned to death.
As I stood out on the windy Colorado plains by myself, reading the information, I looked at the date - April 20, 1914. The shootings at Columbine happened on April 20, 1999. Two massacres of children and the people who protected them in the same state on the same day. Even though it was a sunny day, it felt dark and creepy standing there outside the chain link fence that secures the area, wind whipping the grass around my feet. I hurried back to my car to head home. As I did, the last two verses of the Old Testament echoed in my head.
5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet
Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.
6 And he will turn
The hearts of the fathers to the children,
And the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”
Malachi 4: 5-6, New King James Version

One more event shaped me and the book. A very long time ago, when I was enormously pregnant with my first child, I met an ill toddler at a baby shower. The same darkness I felt at Columbine, and the same darkness I felt at Ludlow, crept up my spine when I looked into that little girl’s eyes. I found out later that the child was rushed to the hospital, flown to a medical center in another state, and died the next day. The image in her eyes never left me. I wanted to help her. But I felt incredibly helpless, a custodian of a life I didn’t know if I was even qualified to handle.
So these events and others shaped me and helped form the book. And I am a woman with a message that men are indeed important in the lives of children.
But my best-selling writer friends said a book like mine would be a hard sell. And it has been. Like most first novels, it’s multi-genre: Christian speculative fiction. It has paranormal, Christian, suspense, and thriller elements so it doesn’t fit neatly anywhere. A rookie mistake. But everyone who read it (and there have not been many) said this has to be out there. When I finally found Les Stobbe, my agent, three years ago, he became a champion for the book. And now there’s my publisher with a small press in Missouri, who sees it as her mission to publish really good books that make a difference. She decided to take a look at my book after the recommendation of a writing friend and said she couldn’t put it down.
The Prophetess One: At Risk is not set in Colorado. That was too close to home. I wanted it to happen somewhere benign. And I wanted my main character to be a custodian of a life and the most helpless person possible. And I wanted something good to come out of some of these terrible things I’ve seen happen, including Danny’s sacrifice.
The problem is, how do you explain all this to someone who says to you, “Where do you come up with the ideas for your books?”
Ideas are everywhere. I can’t write fast enough. My fiction agent is shopping a new five book series and I’m working on another proposal for a three book series to send to him.
I tell writers during my pitching workshops that there are no new stories out there and no new themes for books. And I see their faces fall. But that fact doesn’t make your book or mine less unique. It’s the particular blend of your experiences as an author that makes your book as individual as your fingerprint. That combination of uniqueness and the “universalness” we all share is what pulls your reader in to the experience and makes your story one worth reading.

Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, and has more than 5,000 articles and seven books to her credit along with awards for fiction and non-fiction. Her latest book, co-authored with her surgeon, is Weight Loss Surgery with the Adjustable Gastric Band from Da Capo Press. She has an iPhone App of her workshop “Pitch Your Book” and her first novel The Prophetess One: At Risk, both coming out in Spring of 2011. Visit her website: www.LindaRohrbough.com.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.