When tragedy or loss shatters our heart, we have moments when it's difficult, even impossible, to imagine putting all the pieces back together. They don't teach that in school.
So when I meet someone who's done it, someone who has made their way through sorrow and pain to find joy and fullness of life, I want to know how they did it.
Amber J. Keyser’s debut novel THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN tells the story of a fifteen-year-old boy and a ten-year-old girl thrown together by tragedy who find hope and healing in the Canadian wilderness.
There is an intensely personal story behind this book, and I'm honored and grateful the author has agreed to post today and share her story. Amber...
I have always used writing to sort through my experiences, my deepest thoughts, and my hidden fears. There is a box of journals in my attic begun in high school and continued sporadically for all these years into which I penciled my troubles and my victories. For me, words were a way to both exorcise the demons that haunted me and to make sense of my life and relationships.
When I was expecting my first child, a little girl named Esther Rose, my journal entries turned into letters. I chronicled her first movements, my dreams of her, and my hopes for our life together. I wrote to a person that I knew more intimately than anyone else in the world. I wrote from a deep sense that she was the child I had been waiting for my whole life. Together we were forging a new future.
And then she died, this baby girl of mine. This heart of my heart. A cord accident during labor ended her life before it even had a chance to begin. For a long time I thought it had ended mine as well. But I kept writing letters to my daughter. I poured my grief onto the page.
This was fifteen years ago, and the words I wrote were nowhere close to a novel. It took ten years walking the paths of grief, and the safe births of two more children, before I felt ready to write about my loss for others to read.
When I began, one of the women in my critique group asked me if I was ready, really ready, to go back into the shadows. She reminded me of how long it would take, how many times I would have to revise, and how it might feel to receive feedback on such personal material. And yet I forged ahead, crafting characters, who were partly me but also not me, to carry a story that was partly mine but also not mine.
"I had to return
Later on, when I was bringing pages to our group, another member had to gently, so gently, remind me not to let the mother take over the story. This was indeed the challenge of writing THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN. A challenge I faced again and again and again.
To write a novel that would be both honest and true, I had to return to very painful places, but I also had to find a way to peel the emotional truth from my experience and transfer it into the story. It is hard to describe how this worked, harder still to explain how it felt.
The words that capture it best are from THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER by CS Lewis. When Eustace describes how Aslan changed him from a dragon back into a boy, he says:
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know—if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.~C.S. Lewis
It was like that for me—eviscerating and freeing at the same time. There were many times that I wept, and afterwards I would experience a strange lightness as if transferring suffering to the page had unburdened me. To my surprise, this sensation of having released my pain has continued.
Over time, my letter writing to my baby has diminished until for the past ten years or so I have only written her letters on her birthday. This year was the first one in which I didn’t even do that. I didn’t forget. I just didn’t need to. THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN is my love song to the daughter I didn’t get to raise, and it says exactly what I needed it to say.
And here's what Booklist is saying in its starred review, “Keyser’s debut novel is an exquisite and enthralling exploration of loss, love, and healing.”
Thanks so much for sharing, Amber.
For more about Amber J. Keyser, her books and her upcoming appearances check out her website here: www.amberjkeyser.com.
More about THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN:
Rakmen Cannon’s life is turning out to be one sucker punch after another. His baby sister died in his arms, his parents are on the verge of divorce, and he’s flunking out of high school. The only place he fits in is with the other art therapy kids stuck in the basement of Promise House, otherwise known as support group central. Not that he wants to be there. Talking doesn’t bring back the dead.
When he’s shipped off to the Canadian wilderness with ten-year-old Jacey, another member of the support group, and her mom, his summer goes from bad to worse. He can’t imagine how eight weeks of canoeing and camping could be anything but awful.
Yet despite his expectations, the vast and unforgiving backcountry just might give Rakmen a chance to find the way back from broken . . . if he’s brave enough to grab it.
To buy the book click here...
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