The idea for Riverborn came in a dream in June of 2014. It was a “heavy” dream that made it hard to surface. I felt like I had packed stones in my pockets, and I had sunk to the very bottom of the image-pool to retrieve this story. I lay awake for a long time with my eyes shut, so I could keep it with me as long as possible, and savor its visions and revelations.
I saw a boy and a girl, about fourteen-years-old, standing in a room full of clothing. I knew that if they put the clothing on, they would travel to the place where the clothes made sense. I also knew that their birthday wishes came true. It was important to carefully consider what they wished for, because their wishes affected everyone. The last thing I was certain about as I lay there relishing the dream was that these teenagers were part of a society with a rigid caste system. They had been born into the lowest strata, and the upper classes reviled and denigrated them.
This dream haunted me for days and I kept thinking, “This is a story. If I can only uncover it, there’s a whole backstory and a whole other world where these characters are alive.” Within a few weeks, I started to write.
Early on, I realized I was writing for my grandsons, and I decided to name characters after them. Bodie was three at the time, Ryerson was not quite two, and my daughter-in-law, Ashley, was pregnant with Caleb. I decided that Ryerson would make a good guardian for Sola, and that Bodie would be a mentor of sorts that Sola and Tower would meet in another world. My mother, a woman with flaming red hair and a fabulous sense of humor, had passed away the previous year, and I wanted to honor her memory as well. The rest of the characters appeared as I went along.
I had no clue how arduous the writing process was going to be! I remember thinking, “I can probably crank this out in about six months,” but it wasn’t long before I knew I needed help. My friend, Chris O’Connell, recommended going to the Cuesta Writers’ Conference, and what a great piece of advice that turned out to be! One of the seminars in 2014 provided my first “Aha!” moment. I realized that the idea for my story was quite complex, and that the first thing I needed to do was create my fantasy world.
It took forever to do that! I was working full-time and writing during stolen moments here and there. Sometimes I got up early, thinking I could write for an hour or two before I went to work, but those two hours would vanish in seconds. I had to re-enter the dream-state where the characters first appeared. I closed my eyes and waited for Sola and Tower to say and do things, and then I wrote the sequences down. I knew this was not a very practical strategy–it took me into a labyrinth with a thousand false paths. I tried outlining, diagramming, and other tips recommended to writers, but eventually, I concluded that this was not my way. I’ve always been a visual thinker with a “cartoon-mind,” and I had to follow my images wherever they led.
I spent more than a year creating Belsinane, writing scenes with all the characters, and getting to know them inside and out. By late summer of 2015, I had a rough draft written in third person that carved out the basic plot. The style felt stilted and “off” to me, but I didn’t know how to fix it. The Writers’ Conference came to my rescue again. In 2015, one of the presenters talked about “voice,” and I suddenly realized I needed to write the story from Sola’s point of view. Naturally, this changed everything. You can’t just go back in and change the pronouns and you’re done! I saw a mountain of work overshadowing me, and I balked. The story had already consumed a year and a half of my life. Did I really want to start from square one and wrestle with it again?
I took some time off, and I felt like a hermit coming out of a cave. I joined a book club, and a dinner-out group that met at a local restaurant every Wednesday night. I went hiking, I took yoga classes, and I wondered if I would ever go back to writing. Meanwhile, another small (but beautiful) complication appeared. My fourth grandson, Lucas, was born in February of 2016. Now I needed to create another “good guy” in the story, even though I had already completed the plot.
Ultimately, it was my son, Brandon, who refused to let the story go. The next time I traveled to North Dakota, he said, “You have to finish. I already imagine myself reading the book to the boys, so first person, third person, whatever! I don’t care how you do it, but you have to finish.” Hmmmm. I went back to California and put pictures of the four boys on my fireplace mantel. They smiled encouragingly, like benevolent stewards, and I began again.
This time the story took flight! I had the experience again of time vanishing. I could sit down with my computer at 7:00 in the morning, and look up half an hour later to find 2:00 p.m. on the clock. I felt more at home in Belsinane than California that year, and it was a struggle to straddle the two worlds and converse with real people in real time.
The spirits of the boys kept me going all the way into 2018, and I honored the rest of my family in the details of the book as well. The character August Octavia commemorates my son’s birthday, August 8. Winter Seventy-Seven, Bezel’s Seaborn name, is when my daughter, Anjuna, was born. July 14, the day Anna-Catherine meets Reed, is the day my mother passed from this world. There are dozens of tributes sprinkled here and there that only my family will find, but hopefully the story evolved into something readers everywhere can enjoy.