Behind the Book: A Whisper of Smoke
Updated: Sep 27, 2022
WARNING: Spoilers may be contained below! Don't read unless you've first read the book!
Finding My Divine Spark
I have wanted to be a writer since I was eight years old, and wrote two novels before I finished the eighth grade. But after that, I wrote nothing creatively for many years. Because I grew up poor, I was very driven to not be poor as an adult. So I pursued a career that would always provide work and a steady paycheck and found that I was quite good at it. As an accountant, I have worked with over 100 companies, but more importantly, I have been given the opportunity to flourish, to allow my intelligence, perceptiveness, and analytical ability to grow as big as God meant for them to grow. It has been a valuable career to me for many reasons, not the least of which is that working in this field, especially in a global firm that only hires very left-brain-intelligent, exceptionally analytical overachievers, highlighted to me how much I’d been suppressing my natural intelligence and other related gifts — for fear of looking like a nerd, for fear of inadvertently making someone else feel less capable, for fear of being sinfully arrogant (one of my key takeaways from my religious upbringing), and for fear of failure. I will always be appreciative of the unexpected gift in my life that it was okay and even essential to embrace my God-given talents. And in doing so, I grew in confidence that I have used to create financial statements, audit accounts, and analyze financial results, but also surprisingly to teach, lead, and even champion others, pursuits that have fulfilled me in ways I didn’t expect. And, as I’d hoped, it has always paid my bills. You might say, by embracing and sowing my God-given talents, I was blessed! What an important lesson!
But through my professional career, I also came to understand that I was different from most of my colleagues. First, having a highly developed creative side gave me an intuition that helped me understand the possibilities in business and how to empathically relate to clients, that helped me see the way accounting literature could be knitted together to tell a story that wasn’t readily evident to 95% of technical accountants, and that helped me to see opportunity in strategic thinking and to defy the routine. These qualities are not unheard of in my left-brained field, but they are relatively rare. But second, and just as important at this stage of my current life’s soul journey, recognizing this difference also highlighted that, inside, I craved something more. And that something was to create, not just artful technical accounting positions derived from thousands of pages of accounting literature, but also beautiful, painful, human stories derived from nothing other than the Divine spark that is inside me but also connected to everything else.
It reminded me that deep inside me, since the first time I wrote a story, a play, a newspaper (all in third grade, believe it or not), I knew that I would be a writer. I just needed to find the story that needed to be told, and that specifically needed me to tell it.
The Divine Spark for THIS Story
One day, in around 2001, I had lunch with several women of various ages, one of which was now divorced but had, almost inexplicably, stayed in an abusive marriage for years. She mentioned that one of the reasons she had such a hard time leaving was because every time she thought about doing so, she remembered this old picture they had of her husband as a small child. In it, he was this broken, damaged little boy, living in his abusive childhood home, and her heart broke for him. I imagined that something of her own past trauma made her relate strongly to that little boy and want to save and protect him. In any case, it really struck me. It made me think about an impossible question — what if you loved a person, even felt responsible for them, before the terrible thing happened to them that changed them forever? Before the abuse happened, maybe even abuse you feel like you could have, perhaps even should have prevented? How would that color everything about your view of them from then on, creating complex interconnected feelings of guilt and love and, always, an interminable hope for their redemption? How might that guilt and love sometimes override your better judgment and even cause you to make terrible mistakes? And how difficult would it be to know that few others could relate or understand your love for that person and that they very well may judge you harshly for it? Most importantly, what if having that kind of empathy, even if born of residual responsibility or guilt and blurred by conflicting convictions about right and wrong, could allow for a kind of unconditional love that few of us truly understand?
This story came together based on that kernel of an idea, that complicated question (and its many off-shoots) that is as essential to our understanding of the human condition as it is awful to contemplate. It was the story that needed to be told.
Was the Setting Important?
You may wonder why I wrote it in the 1960s, when I wasn’t even born yet, and had never experienced those times myself. The timeframe was inspired by the same conversation with that diverse and wise group of women over lunch, several of whom commented how in the not-so-distant past, such abuses and the need for healing and accountability were considered much more taboo than they are today. And because they were so taboo and likewise were often not even discussed, their existence and the complicit silence surrounding them provided the perfect incubator for all of the terrible and the good that could come out of such an environment, where the difference between the two outcomes sometimes rests on nothing more than recognizing that there is unvarnished love buried beneath the heaping pile of mistakes and human failures. For these reasons, I believe that this setting component was vitally important to the story that needed to be told.
You may also wonder if there was significance to the physical location setting being Louisville, Kentucky. This is the easiest question of them all. The location setting came to be because I am from Kentucky, and that is what I knew and could personally relate to the most at the time I was writing this book.
Why… the rest of it?
Everything else in the story grew out of the foundation that was weaved by the question and the setting — each subsequent detail, from the oft-forgotten magic of childhood to the futility of the Vietnam War to the pain and all-consuming fury of first love, became as important as these roots, as each and every facet grew from my Divine calling and therefore, I believe, was specifically intended for some reader. Maybe even for you.
There were also elements that made this story specifically relevant and relatable to me, as it brought home certain things that I had experienced in my own life and family – trying to be the responsible one, and doing it as well as a child can, but falling short because I was still only a child. Being all-consumed with first love to the exclusion of your perceived responsibilities which, while understandable, can feed long-term guilt. And also understanding that most people in our lives are not all good nor all bad, and that our parents are human beings who experienced their own traumas and carry their own baggage. And sometimes we can do the best we can, based on our limited experiences, and it may not be enough. That does not make us evil. It makes us human. These concepts resonated deeply with me and poked at wounds I needed to examine. They are the things that made it me that was meant to tell this specific story.
A Little About the Process, Which Brings Us Full Circle
From a practical perspective, you might be interested to know that, because this was my first novel and because I was working towards making partner at my firm (and then I was a partner, and a new one), it was my labor of love for ten years. I spent much of those years working on the craft of writing which included many, many false starts, wasted pages, revisions, feedback, workshops, etc., and much of it spent conducting extensive research on the era, including the Vietnam War, as well as styles, culture, slang, etc., in the 1960s. But most of all, it took me a long time because this story explores some questions that plague many families, probably many more than we will ever realize or appreciate. Possibly even my own. And I wanted very much to better understand at the soul level, which I knew required that I live inside my characters and feel all of it fully so that I could, hopefully, do the story some sort of justice. And from my perspective, it worked. Writing it helped me have more compassion and understanding and empathy than I realized was possible, even as its creator, and that is Fiction’s Greatest Gift. And it is truly Divine.
My Wish for You
First of all, I hope this story touches you, makes you nostalgic for moments in your past that are unique to you, and elicits in you an immersive, emotional response. Second, I hope that this story helps you, as the reader, think through the complicated, human questions that are touched upon in these pages, with the open heart of one who has taken the difficult but necessary journey. But most of all, I hope this story helps you to gain understanding or empathy you didn’t previously have and that it blesses you. And if you are one of the special ones that are part of the Divine Plan for this story, one of the people that was meant to read this so that you could feel Divine healing or growth at the soul level, I send you extra blessings, from my soul to yours. I truly thank you for helping me complete my soul purpose with this book. Without you, these words are just thoughts on a page.
To all of you, each and every one of you, if this story touched you in some way, I’d sincerely love to hear from you, either through a review or a personal message, or both. It does my soul good to know that I’m on the right path.
Don’t go yet! I want to share this with you too…
As I said, I had many false starts in this book. That’s not uncommon, especially for novice writers, to start in the wrong place and ultimately cut the original beginning of a book. And it’s not always that the first parts are not good storytelling or that they are not well written. Sometimes, it’s simply because those pages are not part of THIS story. I wrote many pages about Susanna, Calvin, Mama, Lorelei, and Hank that came before the campout that changed Susanna’s life. They, too, are magical and insightful and a little story in and of themselves. If you’d like to read them, I would love to share them with you in the form of my FREE prequel novella, HIDDEN IN TALL GRASS. You can get your copy by CLICKING HERE or on the image below, or by visiting my website at:
Before you go, I meant what I said — I really would love to stay in touch!
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I also hope you’ll check out my OTHER BOOKS! I believe that they, too, were inspired by the Divine, and so, just maybe, they are written especially for you.
I would love to hear your feedback and reactions to these thoughts and concepts in the comments below! And if you enjoyed this post, please like and share!
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