I love old houses. Always have. In fact, the house I live in is more than 200 years old (and only had an outhouse when I purchased it). My vacations always include a visit to a Southern plantation, and if there is an open house at a historic home within 100 miles, I do everything in my power to attend.
To me, it’s almost a spiritual experience to walk through the old halls, listen to the squeak of the floorboards, touch the smooth handrails and try to imagine all of the souls that have done the same. How many children raced up and down the stairs? How many first kisses were stolen on the front porch? How much laughter and joy, tears and tragedy took place between its walls?xxxx
No surprise then to anyone who knows me that I would end up writing a novel about an old house and the secrets of a long-ago love story that it reveals. No surprise to anyone, that is—except me.
Writing a Novel
Most people are surprised to hear that some authors have no idea what a novel is going to be about when they start writing. Since I’m one of those authors who figures out the story as I go, I thought I’d share a bit about this sometimes painful, always unpredictable, adventure with you.
I’ll try to explain the process using the novel Lacewood, which strangely enough, didn’t begin as a book about an old house. Instead, it started with an inexplicable fascination with sycamore trees. (Did I mention that I love old trees almost as much as old houses)? Even though I’d been driving by these trees for dozens of years, I began to notice them everywhere—along the road, dotting the creeks, stretching their ivory white limbs up to the sky in the distant fields.
“Normal” people would ignore this sudden obsession, but being a writer, I knew it was the prodding of my writing angel (that’s what I call her)—and I know better than to ignore the writing angel.
After doing some research, I discovered that sycamores have quite a history—all the way from the Bible to the American Revolution. In fact, a 168-year-old sycamore tree is credited with sheltering a large group of soldiers during the Battle of Brandywine.
I also found a reference to sycamore trees being referred to as lacewood. Ahh, Lacewood. It sounded beautiful…like the title of a novel. This was wonderful news, because I usually struggle with a book’s title long after it is completed.
The bad news, of course, is the title was all I had.
Staring at a blank computer screen brought to mind the image of a house beyond a gate that was deserted for some reason. I decided the house must have secrets—but I had no idea what they were. Picturing the inside of the house, I saw a portrait on the wall with the noticeable trace of a second portrait that was missing. Unfortunately my writing angel didn’t tell me who the portraits were of—or why one was missing.
In due time I figured out all of the details…the secrets, the significance of the sycamore trees, the almost-forgotten love story, and the mystery behind the portraits. This journey of discovery is part of the fun of being an author. (Of course on some days, it’s also part of the torture and madness).
Lacewood went on to win some pretty prestigious awards including a John Esten Cooke Award for Southern Fiction. I think it’s been so successful because it was written from the heart, and features some of my favorite things: small towns, old houses, a contemporary romance and a Civil War love story. (Oh, and a little mystery and a subtle ghost story to boot).
When an author writes a novel by the seat of their pants, it’s a miracle—even to the author—that it all comes together in the end. Looking back, I think the themes that emerged in Lacewood are a reflection of the somewhat painful process of creating it. Because without any intent on my part, Lacewood turned out to be a novel about trusting in fate, letting go of the past, and believing in things that can’t be seen…
(Yes, like my dear writing angel).
If you’re interested in learning more, take a look at the Lacewood Book Trailer HERE:
Sometimes love is too powerful for one lifetime:
The past and present converge in this haunting read about a disillusioned socialite and a wounded veteran who find a shared purpose through the restoration of an abandoned mansion. Secrets are divulged, riddles are unraveled, and mysteries are solved, as the house reveals a love story in danger of being lost forever.
A powerful and poignant book club novel that vividly conveys the heartache of war, the tragedy of loss, and the fulfillment of destiny…even when souls are separated by centuries.
Here are a few reviews:
“A lovely story of healing & hope.” – BookBub Review
“It’s a ghost story, a romance, a ‘finding yourself’ story all rolled up in one. Couldn’t put it down!” – Amazon review
“The house took on a life of its own, hauntingly beautiful, brilliantly described I felt as though I were there in the house as secrets are uncovered. I know I will not forget the characters story for a long time. – D. Patterson
Jessica James is an award-winning author of historical fiction, suspense/thrillers and heartwarming Southern small town fiction, who has a special place in her heart for old trees, old houses and old books. She writes inspirational novels with emotional plots, fascinating characters, unforeseen twists, and touches of heart-warming romance.
In addition to almost two dozen literary awards, Jessica recently received a 2021 RONE Award for her Christmas novel Sleigh Bells Ring, which is a heartwarming cowboy romance filled with second chances, hometown traditions, and the magical promise of the holiday season.
Connect with Jessica everywhere by clicking HERE and don’t forget to check out her blog Past Lane Travels, where she writes about interesting off-the-beaten-path historical sites she visits. You can click this link to sign up for her newsletter and receive a free book: https://www.subscribepage.com/jessicajamesnews.
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