by Heather Blanton
When writers discover old manuscripts or lost chapters to a book, we are as thrilled as when we run into old friends from high school. My first novel, A Lady in Defiance, went through some serious re-writes before its publication in 2012. A lot of chapters, subplots, and even characters “fell to the cutting room floor,” as they say. Every deletion, every edit, made me bleed. This is a powerful story of three good, Christian sisters who are faced with the ultimate tests of their faith and love. I couldn’t imagine that every single word didn’t matter profoundly. I wanted you, my gentle reader, to feel all their pain. I wanted you to weep with these ladies, cheer for them, and yearn to read more of their tales.
But, alas, the experts said nay to my heartfelt opening chapters.
Specifically, they warned I had too much backstory. Rule of thumb: start a story as close to the action as possible. A Lady in Defiance opens with the death of Naomi’s husband, the event which strands the sisters in the wild-and-wooly mining town of Defiance. Everything that came before that—why they were there, why they were headed to California, why one sister was pregnant outside of marriage—all backstory. The experts said reel it out during the course of the novel. Since I am humble enough to assume I don’t actually know everything about writing fiction (and back then, I knew even less than nothing), I took the suggestions.
And A Lady in Defiance became a number one best-seller on Amazon for months.
Five years later, I am still getting emails from people who have been impacted by the story of the sisters who wrangle so honestly with doubts about themselves, their faith, and love in general. Readers have let me know they are deeply invested in these girls. They appreciate their flaws and how human they are.
As well as the book has done, though, I’ve always missed those opening chapters. There was some good stuff in there. The story before the story is still a story, right?
Imagine my joy, then, when I found the original opening to A Lady in Defiance. After running it by several beta readers and an editor, I am convinced there is something of value in what I call The Lost Chapters. Naomi is devastated by the death of her husband in A Lady in Defiance. Now you get a deeper look at her relationship with the man who hung the moon and stars for her. Yet, as it turned out, he was the second-best thing to ever happen to her. The first was waiting in that wild-and-wooly mining town.
And what was it like for sixteen-year-old Hannah to deal with the shame of being pregnant outside of marriage? Confessing it to her church? Realizing the father of the baby had abandoned her? That she and the child are seen only as obstacles to an ambitious man’s plans for success?
The best thing about these chapters, however, is seeing God move everything into place—how he is planning for something good to come from the sisters’ heartbreaks—so that Naomi, Rebecca, and Hannah truly will have futures bright with hope. He knows the plans He has for us…