J. Michael Blumer shares the story behind his story …
I was working at becoming a writer and joined an Internet writing group. Members submit their own chapters for review and review chapters uploaded by others. Different elements of writing are ranked from 1 (low) to 5 (high) by reviewers who also provide comments and suggestions. I was posting chapters from my adult fantasy epic novel. I studied books on writing. I took classes. I edited and reedited the chapters, yet the best rankings I could ever get were 2’s and 3’s. I was very discouraged.
Then one day a 6th grade teacher and writing group member posted a request. She wanted permission from members to download chapters to use in her class. The students were going to write in-depth reviews, more like scathing movie reviews than book reviews. No one would give her permission. Members started pulling down their chapters, just in case the teacher might download them anyway.
The teacher put out another plea. She pointed out the chapters didn’t need to be good. Flaws would give her students more to work with. Still, no one helped.
I began thinking. Working on my epic novel was so hard. Trying to do everything perfect and receiving such low scores was frustrating. Writing was so much fun for me until I began trying so hard. Hmm… I thought. I didn’t need to write well to help this teacher out. The chapter would be a throwaway piece. I didn’t need to stress over it. I decided to help her!
I sat at my kitchen table with a paper and pencil. Because this chapter wasn’t important, I decided to write it longhand during commercial breaks while I watched television. I decided there would be three wizards who came to earth to do something. I didn’t know what. Ah… they’d land in the middle of a pine forest. That way I didn’t need to do any research. They came to hide something that everyone else wanted. Hmm… I thought. Ah, ha! It will be a magic book they’re hiding.
I didn’t want the wizards to just dig a hole and bury the book. That would be too lame. I did have a little pride. I decided to have the wizards use a spell to hide the book in solid stone. The stone could be a hearthstone, part of an old cabin that was falling down.
The wizards each said part of a spell.
Wizard 1, “Book in a stone stays out of sight.”
Wizard 2, “Seek with a rainbow in the night.”
For wizard 3, I couldn’t come up with anything that rhymed. I told myself it wasn’t important. The spell from the 3rd wizard became, “Tears from a girl with an overbite.” That would give the kids something to criticize for their assignment.
I decided there would be one last spell.
Wizard 1, “Nut with a cap where the pine cones fall.”
Wizard 2, “Names of love in a mother’s shall.”
Wizard 3 – Same problem. I couldn’t come up with a good line. Hey, this was a throwaway chapter I reminded myself and wrote, “Laughs from a boy who ain’t too tall.” It wasn’t good grammar or a good spell, but I was done.
The wizards left, going back to wherever they had come from. I had no idea where. I felt a little guilty I had rushed this chapter, had not put any effort into it and hadn’t thought anything through. It was late and I didn’t have time to change it. I did wish I had time for a second chance. “Second chance,” sounded good. I decided the book they hid away was a magic book of second chances. That was it. I was done. The next day I typed it up and posted it to the writing group for the teacher.
There was one small problem with my timing. I posted my chapter a day later than the teacher needed it. I just shrugged and left it posted. Then something strange happened. I started getting email messages from the workshop members. They had been reviewing my chapter. Some members even gave me 5’s.
They asked how the magic book worked. Did the book grant three second chances, like three wishes, or did you only get one second chance to do something over in your past. They said they could see why the book would be so valuable and sought after. Some of the members told me what they would do if they had their own second chance in their lives.
They loved the wizards, especially the one who couldn’t rhyme his spells. They said he was a favorite character and hoped to see more of him in other chapters.
I scratched my head. The spell didn’t rhyme because I was lazy. I didn’t know who the wizards were, where they came from or even what the magic book did. I had no clue what this story was about.
A friend emailed me that she couldn’t wait to read about my two main characters. Her comment confused me. I only had the three wizards. I emailed her and asked how she had figured there were two more main characters.
She replied, the story had a boy who ain’t too tall and a girl with an overbite from the spells. I grinned and shrugged. I had to invent two more characters.
Members asked for more chapters, so I wrote a second one, then a third and more. Six months later I finished the last chapter. Workshop members encouraged me to submit my novel to publishers.
At about chapter five, I had realized why this book was working and why my other epic novel had failed. I had been trying too hard with that first novel. With The Book of Second Chances, I relaxed. The words and story came from within me without me filtering everything, analyzing paragraphs and sentence structure. I had taken what I had learned and wrote as I had always written in the past. It made writing fun again.
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