In 2015, I began the first draft of what would eventually become Fearless.

Before Fearless became Fearless, it was Branwen, which was a quite a different story. I think it would be most accurate to say that Fearless grew from Branwen since Branwen was originally one book that grew into three, but that’s a story for the next post in this series.

The process of writing Branwen went far faster than that of Heartless, though I still wouldn’t call it “speedy.” I had an extra 100,000 words of experience under my belt as a writer. I had a better idea of where my story was going, and was beginning to come to terms with that dreaded four-letter word, “plot.” Motivated by promises of fro-yo from Yogurt Mountain, I chugged along with my fellow writers.

Over the next two years, I delved into the history of Branwen and how she became the character she was in my original story, Heartless. What started off as a story set in Welsh pre-history soon migrated to the 16th century. The all-powerful sorceress of Heartless became a frightened, but stubborn 17-year-old girl fighting to survive in a land filled with myths and legends.

The Contract

For years I had dreamed of becoming a published author, and with Branwen, it finally seemed like that might become a possibility. There was a hint of promise on the horizon.

But first I had to finish the book.

So, on May 12, 2016, my friend and critique partner Pam Zollman wrote up a contract to help encourage me. The goal? Complete Branwen by the end of the summer. Since I worked for the school district, I had summers off, which was perfect for buckling down to write. I signed the contract with my critique group as witnesses and set to work.

My deadline of August 1st passed, and Branwen wasn’t done. With one thing or another, I’d fallen behind, but I did make good progress. When schools started back, I slowed down, but kept going. By the end of September, I had reached a major milestone in the plot of the book and was approaching the final stretch. While I hadn’t met my initial goal of finishing the book, I’d officially surpassed the point where I’d written to in Heartless and yet Branwen was still going strong.

Then, a series of tragedies struck.

Caroline & Woody

On September 29, 2016, Woody Brown, husband of my dear friend and fellow writer Caroline Eschenberg Brown, passed away due to cancer. Caroline herself was not well. Before I knew her, she had had multiple organ transplants because of complications from Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes. She also had cancer and was undergoing treatment while trying to look after Woody as his health suddenly declined.

I have never met a more caring and gentle couple. Woody was always so sweet to Caroline. Our critique group met at their house and he usually stayed upstairs, but he would always mysteriously reappear if he detected the presence of cookies. We usually had snacks–cheese puffs, donut holes, etc.–but cookies were his favorite.

Six months after Woody passed, Caroline became very ill. Her cancer had progressed and her kidney transplant was also failing. Still, she was determined to fight and did everything she could to rest and heal.

On April 5, 2017, Carolina Eschenberg Brown passed away. One of my greatest regrets is not visiting her during the last few weeks of her life. I thought I would stay away to let her rest. I thought I’d come over when she felt a little better. I thought there would be more time.

While I had been writing Heartless and Branwen, Caroline had finished two middle grade novels along with several short stories, articles, and picture books. Earlier that year, Caroline had gotten the news that her autobiographical short story “Dialysis and the Doberman” would be published in Chicken Soup for the Soul. The book, The Dog Really Did That?, came out shortly after her death.

Caroline never got to read the final chapters of Branwen, but she always had faith and encouraged me to keep writing. Each week, I saw her signature on the witnesses line of the contract Pam had made for me the year before. I kept the paper at the front of my writing binder. As the anniversary of the contract neared, I set out once again to try to finish Branwen before the summer. I wrote in a mad rush and submitted the last pages on June 15, 2017, finally completing my overdue promise.

At 460 pages, 37 chapters, and 144,000 words, Branwen was done.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *