Twenty years ago a friend of mine published a novel, and after reading it I thought, I can do better than that. So I started work on the kind of novel I like to read — an epic romance spanning many years, with many characters and many changes of scene, set mostly in the little town in Turkey where I was stationed while in the Army.
The book, A Crown of Life, was half finished when I started a new job in a new city, and with those changes I lost interest in the book. I didn’t touch it for several years, until moving back to D.C. in 1998. Then another friend published a novel, and this time I thought, My novel is better than that. So I set to work again and finished it in early 2001.
I was so pleased with the result that I didn’t care that all the publishers I sent it to turned it down. That was my first surprise: I had worked long and hard on the book, and I should have been crushed by the book’s rejection. But no, I didn’t feel anything but the satisfaction that I’d finished it and it was good. I knew why it was rejected: It was too long for the Christian market and too Christian for the general trade. It was also set in a period that has never interested American readers much — the early fourth century, a transitional period between Roman and Byzantine, pagan and Christian. So I stowed the manuscript away in my basement and went on to other works.
But my wife loved the novel, and so did a friend and his wife, and for the next ten years they wouldn’t let me forget about it. Every time we talked of my other works, they would tell me to get my novel published. And every time they did, I would laugh and say, “Who’s going to buy a 200,000-word Byzantine romance?”
Then one day they cornered me over a cup of eggnog and forced me to agree to give it another look. At first opportunity, my wife dug the manuscript out the basement and plopped it down in front of me on the dining-room table. To amuse her, I picked up the first page and started to read aloud, in a melodramatic manner. But before long, I was hooked. The book was much better than I remembered. I had remembered the problems I encountered writing the book and had forgotten the solutions I had found for them. When you write a bad scene, you agonize over it until you find a fix, and the agony imprints the bad scene in your memory, but when you write a good scene, you smile and go on. No agony, no memory.
Ten years earlier I had written a lot of very good scenes, and so I forgot much of the story. Reading it after so many years was like reading someone else’s book: I knew the ending but not the story leading to it. Scenes, characters, dialogues, and plot twists surprised and impressed me. The book read quickly and easily and needed very little work to be ready for publication.
Historical fiction is not everyone’s cup of tea. A Crown of Life is nevertheless a wonderful story, entertaining as well as meaningful. I hope you like it. If my wife and friends hadn’t, it would still be in my basement.