Becoming A Published Author – Chapter 6

Becoming A Published Author
Agony and Ecstasy of Writing a Book
By Evan and Lois Swensen
Chapter Six
Getting in Harness
Halene Dahlstrom

Christmas Connections came into being during a time of tremendous family difficulties, deteriorating health, and the first Christmas after the sudden death of my oldest brother, Berdell. Though he had many struggles in his own life, he had always been a balm to my sagging spirits and an enthusiastic supporter of my writing projects. Reminiscing about holidays past, especially those of my childhood, I remembered that when I was ten years old, I had lost a specially purchased Christmas gift—a package of hankies. I began to wonder what had happened to them, who had found them, if they had been used as a gift or for personal need. From that thought, Christmas Connections began to develop. It seemed as if I was watching a movie and writing down the scenes as I saw them. But it was by no means a fast-moving project.

Thankfully we were able to get a computer a year later, which made all the difference to completing Christmas Connections. Often when I was unable to sleep, I could focus on the story, what my characters were feeling, saying, etc., and put in a small-town, 1960s America setting, much like the one where I grew up.

The first time I thought it was finished, a few friends read it and liked it enough to encourage me. I sent it to a supposedly reputable editing service, and shortly after they received my manuscript and requested a large sum of money, they went out of business. Luckily, I was able to stop payment on the check. Unfortunately, this happened another time, and I grew to distrust writing-linked professionals and to doubt my story’s future.

About the third year, I started to revise the story. Another small book called, The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans was having success, so I was encouraged to try again. When I felt my story was completed at this stage, a couple of family members read it and helped with editing. Finally, I sent it to three publishers and was, of course—rejected.

More than a year later I decided to try again. Two new characters came into being, and the heavenly-connection tying the book together was formed. It didn’t change the original story. It just added another dimension. Then just as I was ready to do the last edit and spell check, my Word Perfect file melted down! It happened just as I was saving changes to disc, so my good disc copy was corrupted too. All I had left of the story was a copy without the last three months’ revisions. Of course, I felt sorry for myself and began to listen to others who said, perhaps it was God’s way of saying, “It’s not your turn.” Or, “It’s not your time.” I put the book away for two years. Then we moved to Alaska.

I can’t remember why I decided to try again. Maybe I was prompted by the success of others or getting a boot from the other side. I began each writing opportunity with prayer this time, knowing that I would stand a better chance of succeeding with God in my corner. I tried to find moments to write that were the least contentious in my home and played inspirational music softly in the background.

Did it work 100 percent? No. Did it create instantaneous harmony within my family? No. But it certainly helped! It also got me back on track whenever I walked away in frustration. During one of those times, I began praying to know if I was supposed to continue. I wondered if I was selfish or if the timing still wasn’t right.

A couple of days later, I went to a special church gathering at the temple. I went with the writing question in mind, but only secondarily. Mostly my focus was on the meeting. Then an interesting thing happened. Instead of lingering afterward to visit with other church members, I felt like I should leave as I usually would have done. I rationalized … nothing is pending at home, no one in dire need, why shouldn’t I stay and enjoy visiting? The more I questioned this feeling, the stronger it got—leave! I did, but not with any great haste. I stepped outside, again questioning why I had felt prompted to leave. No answer came.

A woman was parked in front of the building, waiting for her husband. I noticed an old bumper sticker from my hometown, Riverton, Utah, and began to talk to her. It turned out that she had lived in Riverton but had left more than 40 years ago. I told her that I was new to Alaska and began asking her for suggestions on how to cook salmon. She was a vast reservoir of knowledge. At this point, I decided that God must have wanted me to meet this lady so I would quit wasting fish, and I asked if I could call her.

She said yes and gave me her card. I read it and gasped—she and her husband own a publishing company in Alaska.

There was my answer … go forth, it is time. So I worked on my manuscript for another two months, and then just as I was ready to submit it … the entire computer melted down, and not even the computer experts could put that dumpty back together again.

I had a backup copy this time, and after the UPS man delivered our new computer, I started the final edit. Or so I thought. Through the publisher, I was introduced to a real live editor, Marthy Johnson. She is the Hope Diamond in the world of cut-glass editors that I had previously worked with, and a great teacher. My story lost hundreds of words on the Marthy Johnson editing diet. But Christmas Connections is better for it.

So, it all ends happily ever after? Not quite yet. I have learned that there is more to writing and publishing than I ever imagined, and feel like I have just stepped off the merry-go-round and bought a ticket for the roller coaster. So hang on . . .

I received a lot of help at different stages and freely acknowledge this with tremendous gratitude. I hope now that people who read my book will want to read the next book in the series.

But most importantly, I hope that as you read Christmas Connections, you will gain a renewed sense that our earthly experience is not a random happenstance or a cruel joke, but rather a planned, blessed event with eternal consequences that connects us in this world and beyond …

The afterward above can be found on page 126 of Christmas Connections—miracles one good deed at a time. It recounts that after years of working on the story, juggling marriage, motherhood, moves, and maladies, it was finally published due to divine intervention and the timely meeting of Margaret Swensen of Publications Consultants. Her encouragement finally got me on track to publication, and the first edition of Christmas Connections came out in August of 2000. A month later, Margaret found out she had cancer.

Margaret Swensen was one of the loving examples I used to develop the character of Enid Watterson in this book. It’s part of my tribute to her. What a valiant effort she made to stay on earth with her family and friends! But Heaven had other plans. Margaret died on February 6, 2002. At her funeral, I remarked to a friend, “Margaret Swensen opened the door for me with my writing.” As soon as I said it, I felt wrapped in a warm glow and in my mind heard her voice say, “Yes, I opened the door for you—now don’t you shut it!”

Writing is a challenge, a blessing, and a trial in my life. I continue to create my version of living and loving for my amusement, and hopefully yours. I’m doing the best that I can to keep that door open. I heard you, Margaret—and thanks again!

Evan, who lives in Anchorage, has 9 children, 25 grandchildren, and 6 great grandchildren. As a pilot, he has logged more than 4,000 hours of flight time in Alaska, in both wheel and float planes. He is a serious recreation hunter and fisherman, equally comfortable casting a flyrod or using bait, or lures. He has been published in many national magazines and is the author of four books.