The Chapter that almost ended Heartless . . . and my writing career as we know it.
So many of you know already that I started out writing this story in a much shorter version, by hand. The first novel-length version of Heartless was no more than 40,000 words long, and it was entirely focused on Una's part of the story. I penned it in a selection of spiral notebooks and my leather-bound journal of the time.
During that summer of composition, I took a trip out to Oklahoma to visit my USAF brother, Tom, who was at flight school at the time (he's now a decorated search-and-rescue helicopter pilot). Anyway, I took along my notebook on the airline flight to have something to do. I had written all the way up through Una's escape from Oriana in dragon form, her flight across country, all the way to Southlands. Indeed, I had come all the way to the point of Una's confrontation with Prince Lionheart . . .
And sitting there, at 4:00 in the morning (I always purchase early tickets. Saves money), my knees tucked up to my chest, waiting to board my flight, I stared at my page and thought, I can't write this.
I just couldn't bear the thought of Lionheart betraying Una so utterly! Up until this point, I, along with Una, could tell myself that the Dragon was a liar. That it was all part of his wicked ploy to transform Una according to his will. But that maybe . . . just maybe . . . Una would come to Southlands and discover that it was all a trick! That Lionheart was indeed faithful, that he had not betrayed her as she thought! That something else had kept him back, but he all along intended to come through, to find her, to fight his foe, to liberate the captives and become the hero!
I wanted it almost as badly as Una did. I had fallen head-over-heels for Lionheart myself, after all. He's so charming! He's so funny! And he has suffered so much. I knew when I started out writing him into the story that I had to make him convincing. I had to make the reader fall for him as hard as Una did . . . and in my case, at least, I succeeded!
So I put aside the notebook. I knew deep down in my heart that this scene had to play out the way it did. But I put aside and for about a month tried to consider some alternate path. Tried to tell myself that there was still some way I could rewrite the novel, making Lionheart the hero.
I even considered not finishing the book entirely.
Which, of course, in retrospect would have been disastrous. Heartless was the book that got my career up and running. I had written other things and toyed around with other ideas, but most of them were too complicated for my skill-level. Heartless struck the perfect balance of being a simple enough plot for my writing skills of the time, while maintaining some complexity and depth that can surprise the reader. It was the perfect gateway story into this series, and the perfect gateway story into my career.
I knew this. I knew God had planted this story in my heart for a purpose, and I suspected that part of that purpose at least was getting my longed-for writing career started. But I had to finish the book first . . . .
It took some time and some prodding. I kept starting and stopping this scene again, unwilling to watch the conversation play out as I knew it would. I focused on developing my teaching studio, taking on art students and taking another teaching position at a local learning center. I sketched and painted and pretended that the story just wasn't as important as all that.
But it was. So eventually, after some serious prodding from God during moments of prayer, I picked up the notebook, and I finished this scene. Along with Una, I experienced the heartbreak of rejection, of final rejection. Of knowing that those little lies I've told myself can never become truth. Of knowing that those dreams I cherished were truly dead and burned.
Lionheart was indeed the antithesis of his name. Lionheart was the coward.
But, because of his cowardice, this book came to life with a story that resonates. And just a few months later, God opened doors for me. I signed with an agency, and soon after, signed with Bethany House Publishers.
And to think, I might have missed all of that because of this one scene!
My Personal Favorite Lines
1. "There is something odd about your face, something not--"
"Again, I could say the same," Una replied, and a tiny smile lifted the corner of her mouth. "That beard . . . " She reached out a hand to his face, but he caught it and pushed it away. (p. 260)
"This is no time for jokes," he said.
Una drew back and wrapped her arms about herself, still keeping the scale-covered hand hidden. "Then it is true," she said. "You have killed him."
"My jester." (p. 260)
"I must do what's best for my kingdom. That includes not being devoured by monsters. Can you understand that? My people need me alive, not roasted." (p. 263)
Questions on the Text
1. Lionheart spends a great deal of his time in this chapter making excuses. But don't you think that some of these excuses might be valid? What are your thoughts on Lionheart's explanations to Una in this chapter?
2. What do you think of Una's reaction? Should she (if she weren't a dragon) have been more understanding? Do you think this reaction of hers is understandable? How would you have felt in her place?
3. Favorite lines?