When Darkness Died: The Making of a Christian Novelist
by Patricia Beal
Is there a lost sheep you love and pray for? If so, I hope this story will encourage you.
I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, but for most of my life I believed there had to be some kind of god out there and that being a good person was important.
But in 2012, with fifteen years of writing under my belt and more than three hundred rejection letters on my desk, I decided the notion of a loving god was absurd.
I was giving my writing dream my all, and I’d just been rejected in three different continents on the same week. Another failed dream. What god would let that happen? There was no god.
We were serving in Germany at that time. My first dog had just died; my husband was in Afghanistan; the kids were on post for pre-school, and I was incredibly lonely. I stood in the middle of my empty blue kitchen and said to whoever and whatever was out there, “god is dead.”
This is the story of how God proved me wrong—of how He had me writing my own salvation story all those years.
The dream of writing a novel came in 1987, when growing up in Brazil, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist touched my heart. I wanted to do that—touch people’s hearts with a simple story that had something to say about the human condition.
I moved to the United States soon after high school, fell in love with the English language while washing dishes at a McDonald’s, and learned enough vocabulary to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). I graduated magna cum laude from the University of Cincinnati in 1998 with a B.A. in English Literature.
After an internship at the Pentagon, I worked as a public affairs officer for the U.S. Army for seven years. I fell in love with a handsome airborne infantryman during a stint at Fort Bragg, married him, and quit my special operations speechwriting job to have his babies.
When I wrote the first line of my first novel in January of 2011, I wanted to get published because I was desperate to feel important.
I finished writing A Season to Dance that fall and hired coach Gloria Kempton to tell me if the thing was any good.
She saw potential in the story of a small town professional ballerina with big dreams and dreamy suitors, but it needed work. I joined Gloria’s critique group and spent a year rewriting.
When I finished rewriting, Gloria said the novel looked good and had everything a novel was supposed to have. But… “Something’s still missing. I don’t know what it is. We’ve covered it all.”
So of course, I did what any writer desperate for validation would do. I told my coach that surely nothing was missing and that it was time to find an agent. I hired a service to blast queries everywhere for me. You’re not supposed to do that, but I did. God used it.
One query ended up with Mrs. Joyce Hart, of Hartline Literary. The novel wasn’t Christian—I wasn’t a Christian. She shouldn’t have received my query. But she did.
She sent me a note saying she liked the storyline but that in Christian novels the protagonist couldn’t live with her love interest without being married. She was very kind and said that if she was missing the point and if the novel was indeed Christian that I should resubmit explaining the living-together piece.
I laughed, rolled my eyes, and started typing a condescending reply. Something about Christian fairytale brains and me living in the real world, but I decided not to send it.
Days passed. A week passed. A month passed. And all I did was collect rejections. I became bitter. Bitterly sad at first. Then bitterly discouraged. And then bitterly ugly. I’d never been ugly before. Not like that.
That’s when I said that god was dead.
Surely, I said it to the “god” of my imagination, and not to the real God—God as He reveals Himself in the Bible. But Immanuel was in that kitchen with me. Working. Seeking. On a mission to save.
As I lost all restraint and became the worst version of myself, God removed me from my green German mountaintop.
After less than eighteen months in Germany, we were sent to Fort Bliss, Texas, in the Chihuahua Desert—a place from which you can see a Mexican mountain with the following words written in big white letters: “Cd. Juárez. La Biblia es la verdad. Leela.” That translates to “City of Juárez. The Bible is the truth. Read it.”
During the first six months back in America, I went to two secular writers’ conferences and met more rejection. My lack of restraint and my selfishness didn’t really make me happy. I wanted to go to therapy. I wanted a job. I still dreamed of that book deal that had to be just around the corner. I wanted, I wanted…
But nothing happened, and it didn’t matter how hard I tried to get help, get happy, and find any kind of relief for the pain I felt. Nothing. Happened. I’d never seen so many closed doors—slammed-shut doors—ever in my life. Even the shrink kept double booking, closing early, and somehow cancelling on me. It was ridiculous.
There was one open door. When God planted us in the desert, He planted us two blocks from a friend from the Fort Benning years. A friend whose claim to fame was church shopping whenever the Army moved her family. I asked her to take me to church on the first Wednesday of 2013.
I fell in His arms. Surrendered, defeated, and dependent. Or what God likes to call—ready. I was born again two weeks later and was baptized on Super Bowl Sunday that February.
I had tickets to go to New York for the Writer’s Digest conference that spring, but sometime in March, it dawned on me: “Girl, you wrote a salvation story without the salvation piece.” My first coach, Gloria Kempton, had been right all along. There was something missing!
A Season to Dance isn’t just the story of a small-town professional ballerina who dreams of dancing at the Met in New York and the two men who love her. It’s also the story of a girl desperately trying to fill the God-shaped hole in her heart with often misguided career and romantic pursuits—my story.
That week I finally deleted Mrs. Hart’s email. Yes, it was still in my inbox. I hadn’t been able to delete it. Now I could. I guess it had done what it had come to do. Convict to the point of salvation.
Now, I had work to do. I spent 2013 and the first half of 2014 rewriting the novel. Five ladies from my Sunday school read chapter after chapter as I produced them and cheered me on through that gruesome process. I couldn’t have done it without their support. God is good.
Jeff Gerke edited my novel in the summer of 2014 and had me read Robert McGee’s The Search for Significance: Seeing Your True Worth Through God’s Eyes. God is good.
I went to my first Christian writers conference, the ACFW 2014 in St. Louis. Two weeks later, Les Stobbe offered to represent me. God is good.
In early 2016, we sold the manuscript to Bling! Romance, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. A Season to Dance releases on May 9, 2017. God is good.
My family got saved, too. My husband in July of 2013. Our son in December of 2013. My mom in the fall of 2014. And our little girl in the summer of 2015. We each have fruit of our own—even the children. God is amazingly good.
So if you have friends and family members who deny God’s goodness or existence—people who are angry and who seem to be a million miles from Him, take courage. Keep praying. Their season to dance could be closer than you think.
Patricia Beal worked as a public affairs officer for the U.S. Army for seven years, and her feature story on a day in the life of “Bad Luck Squad” in Iraq won a Keith L. Ware award in print journalism. She’s an Army wife for life, an Army editor, an Aspie, and forever a ballerina.
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