How did I find myself writing a story about Renaissance-era religious dissenters?
Since I can remember, I’ve had a love of geography. Some of my first memories were from watching the 1990 animated movie, The Rescuers Down Under. There’s a short scene where the heroes relay an important message from New York City to Australia. The camera zooms out to show a map and how a telegraph message went from point to point, halfway around the globe. I would have my Fisher Price globe with me and would trace my finger across the places where that message landed.
As I grew older, I also developed an interest in history and military history even more so. My first research paper in 5th grade was about Douglas MacArthur; 6th grade was about the Normandy Invasion. And that love of history and geography only grew.
I devoured every book I could find about the two world wars, the American Civil War, and the American Revolution. The 19th and 20th centuries were always at the forefront. I loved learning about warfare, tactics, technology more than anything else. Other areas of history such as culture, language, art, and politics were less interesting to me.
I often go through stints of historical subjects I find interesting. For example, from 2014 to 2018 I read almost every English book in print about the Arab-Israeli wars. Ask me about the Israeli division commanders in the 1967 Sinai campaign, and we’ll be automatic friends. It was such a fascinating time, full of even more fascinating men. When my wife, Andrea, and I visited Israel in 2016, we not only visited the biblical sites, but we also drove our little rental car to remote desert locations with still-active minefields to experience what commanders like Israel Tal saw. Though I’m not a historian, you could say I’m quite the military history enthusiast.
Sometime in 2018, Andrea asked me about one crazy goal I’d like to accomplish. I surprised her when I said, “I’d like to write a novel.” I’ve enjoyed writing since I was a teenager, and I loved reading even more, but to craft a whole story myself seemed like an insurmountable goal. I didn’t even know what I would write about.
I thought and prayed about it for a few months and ended up with two must-haves: it had to be about something I loved, and it had to be about a subject few, if any, were writing about.
When Andrea and I were married, our book collection became pretty extensive, so much so that many stayed in boxes for years until we found enough shelf space. In 2020 I bought a new bookshelf, and at last every book was going to have a home. While I unpacked the books, I came across The History of the Christian Church by William Jones; I had never done more than thumb through it once or twice, but that Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t stop reading. Much of the book focuses on a very old group of religious dissenters known as the Waldensians. I had definitely heard about these people in various college courses and in a sermon or two, but this time they felt real.
The next weekend, maps in hand, I started taking notes. What were the Waldensians like? What did they believe? Who else wrote about them? And as is always the truth in study, the more answers you find, the more questions you develop. What language did they speak? What Bible did they read? And I did all this because they were interesting. I hadn’t even thought about writing a book yet.
I put that little notebook on my bookshelf and almost forgot about it.
Around that same time, I was reading an article on a technology blog about a software engineer (also my daily profession) who used free software to write a novel over the course of a few years. What interested me more, though, was his regimen. This author wrote every weekday, no exceptions, on his hour-long train commute. I thought to myself, “If I ever write, it’ll be like that—every day, no exceptions.” This author also mentioned the method he followed called The Snowflake Method. It does sound gimmicky, doesn’t it? It’s not, though!
By 2020, I had a pile of notes and a general idea of how I would want to write a book, but those two elements hadn’t quite connected yet. That year, though, a guest speaker taught Sunday School at my church; he mentioned Waldensians three times, which reminded me about my notebook from a few months before. That afternoon, I flipped through my notes again, and that’s when the idea cemented: historical fiction about the Waldensians. Immediately, I scoured the internet for any others who had done similar and found only one out-of-print book (Rora by James Byron Huggins). It felt like my idea was ripe for picking!
Where should I even begin? Waldensian history begins over a millennium ago, and continues into modern times.Within a few weeks of deciding to pursue writing, I had settled on the mid-1400’s; perhaps in a future post I’ll explain why I chose that period.
Thankfully, I had done a decent amount of research, but not enough. Remember, I’ve always been more interested in modern military history. I was much more comfortable studying the trenches of Verdun in 1916 than the tranquil sheep pastures of the Italian Alps in 1459.
I had a general understanding of the Middle Ages, but I felt I was lacking so much. In a marathon of catching up on my late-medieval and Renaissance studies, I read about the intricacies of feudalism, differing views on the Waldensians (written by Catholics, Protestants, anabaptists, and even a few skeptics), the Catholic Church in the 15th century, the Duchy of Savoy, and the earth-shattering events of that time.
I also had to learn how to write. I had a general understanding about writing, but it’s a learned and practiced skill (at least for me). I read six books on the writing craft in general, two books on character, and another on plot structures. My poor wife also had to endure many evenings of me watching lectures on YouTube about creative writing. By the fall of 2020, I was full of information but still needed to actually write the story.
That’s when the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson came to good use. Perhaps it’s because Ingermanson is an engineer by trade, and that method seemed to fit me well. It focuses not only on outlining a plot, but also getting to know your characters. When I began the process in November 2020, I ended up having a ton of fun in the outlining stage.
By the middle of December 2020, I had a plan to write, I knew what I wanted to write about, but still needed to execute the plan.
Continued in Part 2