It was November of 2010 and I sat alone at a wobbly table, the only diner in a local hole in the wall. A passing acquaintance had told me about something called NaNoWriMo, and I was intrigued. More importantly, I was hungry. Not just for the mouth watering chicken club sandwich that was getting cold between scribbled ideas on the page of my spiral notebook, but to write again.
And if I succeeded, 50,000 words in 30 days, not only would I have met a goal but maybe, just maybe, this would be the "one".
I had one failed novel attempt already to my credit, buoyed by one 3rd place finish in a short story fan fiction writing contest from a few years back. I remembered what writing that had felt like. The consuming way it invaded my brain and life, demanding to be given life on the page, and the joy it felt to see it to completion, even before the contest place. I had written it simply because I had to. I wanted to know that again.
I made a lot of lists that lunch hour, getting garlic mayonnaise on most of them, and after slashing through some thoughts, circling others, something was taking shape.
I returned to the office that day with a setting, a title, and the main character.
The setting = Ancient Rome.
There's three things to thank for that. First, the computer game Rome: Total War. Second, Francine Rivers's Mark of the Lion Series. Third, it's still here. Not in the countless sword and sandal flicks and their remakes, but the culture, the calendar, the roads, and it's greatest symbol, the Colosseum.
The title = Chasing the Lion
The pathway to your greatest potential often lies straight through your greatest fear. I heard that in church while listening to a guest pastor talk about a single verse from second Samuel.
"And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man, of Kabzeel, who had done many acts, he slew two lionlike men of Moab: he went down also and slew a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow: " 2 Samuel 23:19-21 (KJV) The pastor spoke about the kind of courage that should mark the life of a follower of Christ, one strong enough that instead of fleeing our "lions" of fear, circumstance, shame, we charged them head on, with the power of Christ and the truth of His word. It was the perfect title, and the story came from it, not the other way around.
The character = Jonathan
Jonathan came to life slowly, the way Jell-O sets. You don't ever really know when Jell-O is going to be finished until it is. I knew what I needed and wanted Jonathan to do to develop the storyline taking shape in my head, but sticking the fork in to pull out why and how kept coming up still dripping. He had yet to come to life for me. I put a picture of him on the desk with a note that said "You did not create him. He is telling you who he is." And after two chapters, he started to "speak", let me see inside him just a little. And by the fifth chapter, I knew I had something. The "I" is important, because I needed the something that was going to spark my inner passion and summon the writer that had been in a coma for so long, showing signs of life in pages of journal entries and e-mails called "novels" by their recipients, and occasionally eyes twitching when writing devotionals as part of my own quest to chase the lion, and a single contest win for a little short story that consumed six months of my life.
I remember the moment that Jonathan came to life. In a rush, (I credit the Holy Spirit) he pulled back the shroud and let me see inside him, his motives, his passions, his fears, his faults and the unmet needs that drove him from God, to God, from God, to God, mirroring my own faith journey. The feeling was familiar, knowing I would not be able to abandon this halfway through like before and give up when it got hard. No, that day Jonathan stood up from the page, put his sword to my neck and with his haunted green eyes alone, told me I would have no rest until his story was finished. The sword is still there, and I'm grateful.