Hey y’all! Welcome back to the blog. Today I’m doing Part Three of Christine Smith’s Know the Novel challenge. This looked like soooo much fun, and so many writers are doing it, so why not? If you want to participate, go to Christine’s awesome blog HERE:
Hooray! It’s an excuse to go on and on and on and on and on and on… all about my WIP, The Apostle’s Sister!
For those of you who didn’t know, The Apostle’s Sister is a Biblical fiction novel about the apostle Paul’s sister. At the present moment, I am still working on the first draft but am SO close to being done! I plan to finish by Christmas Day, because I feel like that would be the best gift to myself, haha. Check out the MY NOVEL section on this website for a rundown on how I came up with the idea for the book, plus a back-cover summary.
Anyways, I am super excited, so I’m going to stop with the introductions and do the challenge! Hope you guys enjoy.
1. Firstly, how did writing this novel go all around?
Oh my goodness, I was SO nervous when I started writing. To be honest, I felt unworthy to write such an incredible story, and crazy for thinking even for a minute I could do it. I mean, how do you give justice to St. Paul’s beautiful story? No one except Jesus has impacted my life more than he has, and if I made a disaster of his story… well, that would be the worst thing that could possibly happen. For a while there I couldn’t get past, like, the fourth chapter. I kept getting stuck there. Eventually, though, I told myself to JUST WRITE and if I didn’t, the novel would never get out there. I was still scared, but once I pushed myself to write, I found myself absolutely LOVING every moment I wrote. Writing this novel has really changed my life. I feel a lot closer to God, and Paul is so real to me now that I feel like I’ve actually met him. Now I will read the book of Acts and his letters with a much deeper appreciation. His life and letters had already changed my life, but now I feel they are even more real to me, if you know what I mean. I guess we’ll have a lot to talk about in heaven! XD
2. Did it turn out like you expected or completely different? And how do you feel about the outcome?
It turned out like I expected in the sense that everything in the story played out as I had planned. I’m big on outlines, so before I started writing I made a 20-page outline where I listed every single scene and what exactly is supposed to happen in each one. So it all went exactly as I planned. Everything that was supposed to happen happened. However, there were a few small plot threads in the outline that I cut, and a few I included in this first draft that I will most likely cut later. It’s because they weren’t really necessary to the story and didn’t move it forward or really impact the characters in any way. And no reader wants unnecessary stuff. I’m a little concerned about my word count, because it’s a bit higher than I intended. So I will probably be cutting out a few of those side plots that weren’t really needed.
In another sense, the story did not turn out as I expected. I went in expecting I was just going to make a mess of everything, but that actually turned out to be untrue. Of course, there are many editing stages in store for this book, and it will undergo some heavy revising. But all first drafts are like that, and for the first draft, I actually think it was a huge success. I’m extremely happy that this turned out a LOT better than I thought it would.
3. What aspect of the story did you love writing about the most? (Characters, plot, setting, prose, etc.)
Characters, characters, CHARACTERS! Though I absolutely loved the plot, I will always have to go with characters because they make the entire writing experience and the entire novel. I LOVE my characters so, so much – when I’m writing it’s like I’m standing right there beside them. As I said before, besides Jesus himself, no one has impacted me more than St. Paul. It was just such an incredible experience to realize more and more as I wrote that he was a REAL person just like us.
When I read Marjorie Holmes’ incredible fiction novel Two from Galilee, about Mary and Joseph, I was carried away by how real they were to me. Holmes stated that while trying to publish the book, she was chastised for irreverence by making the saints of the Bible equivalent to ordinary people. Too many people feel that way. They take it as irreverence, when it is exactly the opposite. They claim it’s a sin to see St. Paul as he was – a real person – because he’s one of Christ’s holy apostles. But I strongly believe God means for us to see his saints as real people, so we can realize we’re not alone in our struggles. They were not statues or paintings in cathedrals – they were people who laughed and loved and cried and hoped and had relationships with their families and friends. I think that’s the most beautiful thing we can realize.
4. How about your least favorite part?
This one’s tough! I can’t think of any part of the story I didn’t enjoy. But if I had to choose, I would have to say the struggle of putting things in words. I’m never sure how best to show my characters’ emotions. Heart thumping, eyes burning, fists clenching… I overuse those. Or I feel like I make them shed tears way too often because I don’t know how else they can show that they’re sad or mad. And ADVERBS and ADJECTIVES! Those two are my worst enemies. *glaring at them I honestly overuse them. Suddenly, quietly, tenderly, and chokingly are my persistent adverbs. For adjectives, probably kind, little, and sorrowful.
5. What do you feel like needs the most work?
Definitely the torture scenes and the heavy emotional scenes.
I struggled a LOT with the torture scenes, because it’s hard for me to even imagine watching such horrible physical abuse done to someone you love. It was so hard for me to try to imagine what Temira (my protagonist, Paul’s sister) was thinking as she stood there and helplessly watched. For question 9 I included part of a torture scene as one of my snippets. I would totally appreciate it if you guys could tell me what you thought once you read it. So yeah, that was hard. What goes through your head when you witness that kind of cruelty done to your loved one? What does it feel like to be convinced you’re watching their murder? All while hearing people mocking and screaming for their death. The most I could do was try to imagine – but that’s a kind of unspeakable pain.
All the heavy emotional scenes were also very hard. The aftermath of the torture scenes were harder than the scenes themselves. You don’t just walk away from torture mentally unharmed. It left Paul not only with physical scars, but mental trauma. Not to mention his sister’s own trauma at what had happened. Some of the most difficult scenes were the ones when he comes home to her and details the suffering to her. She is the only one he will confide in, being unwilling to tell anything to anyone else, even Luke who is writing the book of Acts. Temira has vowed to be there for him, but it’s often very hard for her. Then there is always Paul’s past of persecuting the church which continues to haunt him for the rest of his life. That was difficult to write about, especially Temira’s intense feelings about it.
So yeah. It’s those intense scenes that I feel were quite flat this first draft, because I had a lot of trouble imagining those kinds of pain.
6. How do you feel about your characters now? Who’s your favorite? Least favorite? Anyone surprise you? Give us all the details!
As I said before, I LOVE all my characters! My favorite is Paul, for very obvious reasons. His love for all the people he witnesses to, especially his enemies, will always continue to amaze me. I also really, REALLY love Temira, because she is so loyal and sweet to him, and she really is his strength. She gets him through the toughest times, and is a blessing of a sister to him. I want to be like her. I love their relationship – I think it’s so beautiful.
But since those are the two very obvious choices, I’ll be a little more creative and say Luke. St. Luke, Dr. Luke… whatever you want to call him. Luke is really calm and collected, and he’s always the one who reasons with the group when they start to panic. He’s so gentle with Temira, and so Paul always entrusts her to his care. Luke is there for the toughest moments until the end. I feel like everyone needs a friend like Luke. He was the most loyal of Paul’s friends. Of course, Paul stayed friends with Barnabas, Mark, Silas, and his fellow apostles, but they weren’t RIGHT THERE the way Luke is throughout the entire book. No wonder that in the last letter he ever penned, while awaiting execution in Rome, Paul wrote: “Luke alone is with me” (2 Timothy 4:11). Luke was not only his personal physician and the writer of Acts, but an amazing friend. I love that Luke was a Gentile and wrote his two books to encourage other Gentiles. Also, he makes me laugh sometimes when he starts to ramble about famous Greek medical theories, to Temira’s bewilderment.
Least favorite? My main cast of characters is too amazing. There’s no one I don’t like. I’ll have to go outside the main cast. I know this is really general, but of course I do NOT like all of Paul’s horrible Jewish enemies. I feel like they were worst than the Gentiles and hurt him more. Because they were his own people, he felt greater pain from their cruelty than from the cruelty of outsiders. If we’re asking someone specific who makes an appearance in the book, it would have to be Paul and Temira’s father. He makes appearances only through flashbacks, but his abuse of them certainly left scars.
As for a character who surprised me, that would have to be Seth, the little boy Temira adopts to become her son and Paul’s youngest nephew. Originally I pictured Seth as being mostly a timid and quiet child, but pretty much as soon as I introduced him he took on a life of his own. He turned out to be independent, fiercely passionate, and quite obstinate. But he’s definitely a little hero – he DID save his uncle’s life!
7. What’s your next plan of action with this novel?
First draft WILL be finished by Christmas, then I’ll read the whole novel through as quickly as I can. After that, I’ll plunge into the second draft, then the third, then the fourth… however many drafts it takes until I’m completely satisfied with every word. Then I’m going to search for an agent.
8. If you could have your greatest dream realized for this novel, what would it be?
Getting The Apostle’s Sister published before I graduate high school is my greatest dream. (Also, you can always hope to make the NYT Bestselling List…) But being honest, what I want more than anything is to touch at least one heart through this novel. If I could impact even one person, that would be enough.
9. Share some of your favorite snippets!
Please keep in mind that these are from the first draft, so they aren’t very good yet. But I hope you find them interesting anyway! Feel free to tell me what you think in the comments. So here we go:
Temira knew how the Lord’s mother and friends felt when they stood at his cross watching him die. Paul, lashed against the pillar, showed in his face his extreme agony; and his suffering lips moaned, but when he glimpsed her face in the crowd he set his teeth. She was certain she would never see him alive again; he was being beaten to death before her very eyes, and in the next moment every drop of his blood would be drained. She hung on the pillar with her brother, and she felt the pain of the rods with him; but for his precious sake she would not allow herself to cry. To let him see her cry tears of weakness at this moment was unthinkable.
At that moment Reuben tore through the crowd and reached her side. “Mother, what’s happening?” he shouted above the rabble.
She covered her mouth, unable to trust herself to speak lest she burst into sobs, and looked helplessly at the two pillars where Paul and Silas hung.
After taking one horrified look, Reuben set his mouth in a stubborn line. “Mother, come with me. Let’s go. You should not be watching this.”
“No!” Temira had to speak then with all the force she possessed. “I am not going anywhere.”
Her son gritted his teeth. “Mother, I said it once and I’ll say it again: You should not be watching this.”
“No!” she cried again. “If your uncle dies I will be right here with him. I will give them no reason to call me ashamed.”
Reuben turned deathly green, but still he shook his head. “Mother, come on! Your being here is not providing him with any comfort.”
“I will give them no reason to call me ashamed,” she repeated obstinately. And there was another, personal reason she did not tell even to her son: she had pledged to God she would be loyal to Paul and suffer with him, and she could never let him see her walk away as soon as he met with trouble. She could never let him, in the agonizing grips of death, see his sister walk away and abandon him. She would stay with him until his dying moment, which, she was convinced, would be any moment now.
After some thinking, Temira’s face lit up. She knew exactly what her son’s name should be. “His name is Seth,” she announced.
“It’s a beautiful name, Mother Temira,” said Mesi.
“It means ‘anointed; compensation’ in Hebrew,” Temira explained to Luke and Claudia, who did not understand the Hebrew language. “Mother Eve called her third son Seth because he was the anointed compensation, or replacement, for her second son Abel after his brother Cain killed him.”
“It is beautiful,” Claudia agreed, “but what is its significance to this child? What is he your anointed compensation for?”
“I don’t know yet,” Temira admitted. “It just fits – I have a strange feeling it just fits. Seth is the perfect name for my little one.”
Little did she know she spoke as a prophetess. Four years later, Seth would indeed be the anointed compensation for his grief-stricken mother and uncle.
Silently the old prophet walked up the aisle, his eyes on Paul the entire time. The crowd faltered in its attention and focused on Agabus. Paul ceased speaking and locked eyes with the prophet, and for the briefest moment his face turned deathly pale. The color returned to it so quickly Temira wondered if it had really drained, but she had seen it. She was sitting closest to her brother, and she had seen it.
Agabus came straight toward them. He never even glanced at Temira or Luke or Claudia or Reuben or anyone. He had eyes only for Paul. Suddenly he took Paul’s tattered rope belt from his waist and twisted it around his own feet and hands. Everyone was staring at him, but Agabus never turned to the crowd. He faced Paul and announced, “Thus says the Holy Spirit: ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and hand him over to the Gentiles.’”
Temira wanted to scream, but nothing came from her throat. A gasp, however, went up from the people. She sprang between Agabus and Paul as if to protect her brother from the horrible prophecy.
“Please, Paul.” Luke was the first to speak. “You really shouldn’t go on to Jerusalem. Everyone has been warning you not to do it… and now… and now this. Don’t go. Turn around and leave this area completely.”
“Please!” A sob escaped Temira’s throat as she tugged on Paul’s hand. “Please. You’ve been torturing me the entire time since we started on this journey. You can’t go… you can’t! Not after you heard that.” Tears welled up in her eyes and blurred her vision. She hated Agabus and turned to glare at him to tell him so. But he had left quietly after giving his horrid news, and had already escaped from the meeting-house.
A cry went up from the people, and everyone joined Temira and Luke in begging Paul with tears not to go. “Help me,” Temira appealed to her oldest son. “Help me bring your uncle to his senses.” Reuben tried his best, but Paul would not listen even to him. Mesi, Persis, and Claudia turned to Temira with eyes full of fear.
Paul disengaged himself from the clinging hands. “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?” He spoke to everyone, but looked directly at his sister as he spoke. She saw his heart was indeed breaking; there were tears in his eyes just as there had been when he said goodbye to the Ephesian elders and the children of Tyre. But as yet he had not allowed them to fall. His voice shook, but the determination in it was strong as he said, “For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
When Luke saw that Paul would not be persuaded, he lifted his hands. “Stop trying to convince him to break his promise to the Lord. We are doing wrong in this. Let the will of the Lord be done.”
“Amen.” Philip’s house filled with echoes of, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”
Temira did not intend to repeat that statement with the others, but Paul’s gaze pierced into her soul. She had to say it or she would hurt him, so she repeated reluctantly: “Let the will of the Lord be done.”
Paul could not sleep, and he was so hot Temira feared he would burn to death. He was unaware of her presence and Aurelius’ presence; his delirium was more severe than she had ever seen it before. He moaned in sometimes incoherent speech, but mostly she could understand clearly what he was crying out. Aurelius could not, since he was crying out in Hebrew; but Temira understood almost every word. As always, he moaned Stephen’s name and the names of others; and once he even cried out for Father to stop beating him. Temira knelt beside him and held his hand and prayed as hard as she could. Despite how many times she had seen him in this state, the pain of it never lessened for her.
Aurelius looked frightened – he had clearly never witnessed one of Paul’s worst spells, and said it was the most violent sickness he had ever seen. “Does this happen often?” he asked Temira.
“It does,” she answered shortly, giving Paul’s hand a series of squeezes.
“Several times each month. He has had these recurrent fevers for years and years.”
She couldn’t take the time right now to explain to him about Paul’s thorn in the flesh. “I get my information from Luke. He’s the physician.”
“What can I do?” Aurelius asked anxiously, and she felt sorry for him, because he was obviously distressed and wanted to help her.
“Bring me water. We must try to keep him cool.”
As she lifted Paul’s hand, it burned against her cheek. He gave a sharp gasp of pain, and she knew that now, in his mind, he was experiencing again one of his many whippings. “I deserve it,” he moaned. “Give me letters so I can drag back more followers of Jesus….”
Temira laid her head against his. “Shhh,” she whispered, trying to break through to him. “Shhh.” She kissed his hand and held it against her breast, as if he were a child. “Shhh,” she repeated, having no other comforting words. “Shhh… come out of it… oh, Lord, let him come out of it.”
So yeah, those were some of my favorite snippets. Hope y’all enjoyed them!
10. Did you glean any new writing and/or life lessons from writing this novel?
OH MY GOODNESS, WHERE AM I EVEN SUPPOSED TO START!? I learned so much from writing this novel, I don’t think I can say everything because that would make this post horribly long.
The biggest lesson was that our Bible figures were people just like us. THEY HAD FEELINGS, THEY HAD FEELINGS! I love St. Paul even more now that I see him as a real person, and not just some holy-inspired man who wrote most of the New Testament.
I learn from St. Paul every day, but through writing this novel he taught me even more. I learned that truly loving anyone – family, friends, enemies, and especially God – requires sacrifice. That’s what Jesus did for us on the cross. Of course, Paul made sacrifices. That’s why physical torture and its effect on him was so emotional to write about. The reason his life involved so much torture was because he followed Jesus, and he was willing to sacrifice his body for that. He loved his enemies so much that he was willing to be tortured at their hands if that would bring them to Christ. But he was by far not the only person in the novel to make sacrifices. His friends, like Luke, made sacrifices. They stayed loyal to him although their connection with him made them a laughing stock and placed them in danger many times. His nephews made sacrifices just by loving him, because love for a suffering person causes much pain to the one who loves them. And, of course, Temira made many, many sacrifices for her brother. She loved him, and I actually feel she may have suffered more than he did, just by witnessing his pain. Telling his story through the eyes of a loving sister made it even more of an emotional rollercoaster. I think this quote from her pretty much sums it all up:
“Nobody understood. They were not Paul’s sister. They did not know and love him as she did. They had not curled up in his arms for comfort or watched him raise their sons or kept his intimate confidences. He had only one sister, and that was her.”– Temira, The Apostle’s Sister (page 276)
Yeah, sacrifice is probably the main theme in The Apostle’s Sister.
Writing this novel really helped me understand what it meant to follow Jesus in those times. It meant you were giving yourself up to a lion’s mouth. The early Christians, and especially the apostles, suffered greatly. Paul’s life of suffering has always amazed me. I’ve always wondered how he never cursed God and walked away. If he could suffer so much, I should be willing to do more for God.
While writing, I also learned that Jesus’ love is WAY bigger than I thought. Sometimes we torment ourselves with guilt over our pasts. Paul certainly did. He even called himself the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). He even said he was “the least of the apostles, not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9). One of the biggest reasons why I love him so much is because I know what it is to have a past you regret, so it’s really comforting to know St. Paul went through the same thing and I’m not alone. Paul uses some very strong language against himself; but he also said many times that his conversion was for us, that God used him as an example of Jesus’ great love with all sinners (1 Timothy 1:13-16). That’s why he is the apostle of grace. It was so emotional for me to write about Paul’s trauma over his past. He never forgets it, and that is the mark of a truly repentant person. But Jesus washes away all our sins and doesn’t want us to be stuck in the past when he has made us a new person (2 Corinthians 5:17). He wants us to look forward to the future (Philippians 3:13). Writing this novel really drove all these things into my heart – not only my head.
As for writing lessons, I learned that a story never works unless all your heart and fire and passion are in it. Follow your heart. If you know the world needs your book, you need to write it. No one else will, and even if they tried, they could never write it the way you can. Only you can make anything happen. I have never felt more passionate about anything than The Apostle’s Sister. That’s what keeps me going on even the toughest writing days.
I also learned to just trust God as I write – trust that he will inspire me and use me to touch someone’s life. Before each writing session, I pray that I can always honor God through every word I type, and get closer to him. That’s the most important thing – and exactly what St. Paul himself would have wanted!
So there we have it! I really, REALLY hope you guys enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed doing the challenge. Thank you, Christine! Don’t forget to hop on over to her blog. (I hope no one minded how much I ramble when it comes to my novel… XD)
Talk to me in the comments!! Have you done Christine’s challenge? Tell me how your writing is going! I LOVE hearing about all your awesome WIPs.
What do you think about my WIP? I hope you enjoyed the snippets! If you have any feedback for me, feel absolutely welcome to bring it on! I would really appreciate it. Based on what you’ve read, who is your favorite character from The Apostle’s Sister?
Let’s chat! Share all your thoughts. I’m really excited to hear what everyone has to say!
You know the drill – eat, pray, write, repeat!