It’s been ten days since I started writing Saints. This novel is–weird, for lack of a better word. I don’t really understand it. The story came together so nicely in those first few days. I had almost Landon’s entire character when I woke up that Monday. The other characters just fell together. I didn’t really have to think about it. They were just there. The Saints. The Ash family. The cathedral. All of it. The plot came together fairly easy, too. To be fair, I’m pulling influence from a lot of different places, so I’m sure that helped. But I think it was also that I’m finally writing about religion.
I was going to say quick backstory, but things with me are never quick, and my religious journey certainly isn’t, so buckle in.
I was raised Christian. Specifically, Episcopalian. My mother was Catholic, my father Episcopalian. After they were married, and the three of us were born, my mom was received into the Episcopal church in 2000. (I’m not that great, I texted her to ask.) She’d been going to the church for some time before then, but this was like making it “official” that she was a practicing Christian, and no longer a Catholic.
I was baptized and confirmed as a Christian. I went to Sunday school, I attended church pretty regularly, and I had faith. When I was thirteen, someone I knew, someone my age, died. I really only knew him in passing, but we were friendly whenever we saw each other. At the time, I was dating one of his friends, so I’d been spending more time with him. The last memory I have is of walking through the halls of the old Higgins Middle School with the pair of them on the last day of school. That summer, he passed away. My world, my faith, was tipped upside down.
I asked for a meeting with my priest, and when I sat down, I couldn’t hold it in. “How could God do that?” I asked. “How could He be so cruel?” I can’t remember what her answer was, but whatever it was, it wasn’t enough for me. I started to question why I was here, what my purpose was, if God really existed, and if He did, what His plan could possibly be for me. All of it felt hollow. I continued going to service, but I started to lose focus in the sermons. The readings weren’t speaking to me anymore. My faith was slipping, and I didn’t know how to hold onto it.
For the next five and a half years, I felt blind. Stranded in the dark. My spirit was loose, wandering in nothingness. I had nothing to believe in, no one to believe in. I was constantly struggling in church to reconnect, but it just didn’t feel right. I was on an island. Everyone else had faith around me, but I was miles and miles from safety. I couldn’t catch my breath.
When I first went to college, I had been dating my then-boyfriend for about half a year. We decided that we were definitely cut out for the long distance life, and really, I think we did pretty good. We lasted that entire first year, though there were some ups and downs. When I got home for the summer, I was ecstatic to be back with him. I planned this amazing trip for us to take to a cabin in the woods in New Hampshire, and spent all summer saving for it. We went in July, and I found out a month later that he’d been thinking about breaking up with me the whole drive up. When I found this out, it was because he was breaking up with me. I did what every girl probably does when it looks like her first real, serious relationship is falling apart. I sobbed. I begged him not to go. I promised things would get better. He believed me, or he tried to, and we kept dating for another month. Girls: please don’t do this to yourself. Let him go. He’s not worth it. That last month was awful. When he broke up with me the second time, I handed him the necklace he’d given me and told him to leave. I didn’t cry. I was done.
I went back to college for my sophomore year feeling more lost than ever. I was alone. My writing felt stagnant. I wasn’t reading. I didn’t want to be around my friends. I didn’t have the boyfriend I’d spent a year and a half with. I was hours away from my mom and dad. I felt like I was slipping away.
In December of 2011, someone told me I should check out yoga. When you Google the word “yoga”, this is what comes up in Wikipedia:
Yoga (/ˈjoʊɡə/; Sanskrit, योगः Listen) is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India. There is a broad variety of yoga schools, practices, and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Among the most well-known types of yoga are Hatha yoga and Rāja yoga.
This was the beginning of the rest of my life.
For any of you that don’t know, I’ve been practicing Tibetan Buddhism and yoga since that December in 2011. It started as pictures of sun salutations on my phone that I did every morning. It started as tacking on five minutes to a very small meditation practice every week. It continued as following YouTube videos on a $20 Gaiam mat. It continued as hour-long meditation, a slowly growing altar, and prayers in the morning. Right now, I am currently certified as a yoga instructor, I teach three times a week at Barefoot Yoga Shala in Middleton, and I recently opened my very old goals bookmark folder from 2012 to find that I could do at least half of the asanas. Right now, I am still practicing Tibetan Buddhism. My altar now spreads throughout my entire room, I read Dalai Lama teachings for fun, and I’ve never felt more at peace in my spiritual practice. I feel grounded, rooted into the earth. I’ve found something for me, something that leaves me feeling strong and like there’s something out there in the world for everyone.
I don’t believe in God for me. I do believe in Him for my mom and for Amy and for anyone else that needs Him. I believe that there is something for everyone, and that all it takes is a little faith (and maybe some pixie dust) to find it.
But what does all this mean for the Saints? Well, I went into this novel knowing that a cathedral would be a focal point for it without quite realizing what exactly that meant. As it turns out, Landon is me. He believes in his god, in his religion, in his faith very strongly. He is a devout man, but he’s starting to struggle. He doesn’t agree with some of the things his church is representing, and is starting to wonder what that means for his own faith.
Obviously, if you read my post on the National Day of Writing, you know Landon isn’t a great person. (Duh, he kills someone.) But he’s trying to be. He’s trying to serve his god as best as he can while also kind of trying to save the world a little. Yes, the murdering part is bad, but he’s got a lot on his plate. I’m kidding, calm down. Trust me, while I can rationalize literally anything any of my characters need to do, I usually don’t agree with them. But what I’m writing is fiction, and a good story always has some darkness in it. This one just happens to have all the darkness.
This really has been a strange novel to write. Not that I’m anywhere near done, but–well, I just crossed 20k words. Is that crazy? That’s crazy. It’s been 10 days. Yesterday, I was at 10k. I don’t know what’s going on. Because when I was writing Pen boys like this, in an absolute fever, I felt ecstatic. I felt like I was floating. I felt full of magic and light and energy. Right now, I’m just content. I feel good, but not over the top. I feel settled. These chapters are taking a while to write, and instead of just moving on after I write them, I immediately go back and edit them. Already, I want everything to be finely tuned. I want the words to be as perfect as possible. I want the story to be right. Today, I was in the middle of a scene when I had to drive home, and for the first time ever, I had to continue. I downloaded an audio recording app in the parking lot, put my headphones in, and spent the next 22 minutes writing. I’ve never felt the urge to write so strongly that I had to find a way to keep writing. When I got home, I made dinner, watched some TV, and sat down in front of my laptop to transcribe. It wasn’t enough, though. Right away, I had to edit what I’d written to make it right. I had to reshape it, give it roots.
When it was done, I checked my word count, and was astounded to find I was at 20k. How did that happen? Really, I think it’s because I’m finally writing about religion. It’s there, in little bits and pieces, in all of my novels, but it’s never been a focal point. This time, not only am I including it, I’m embracing it. That calm that finally found me in Tibetan Buddhism has found me in this novel. I wanted to just type, I have arrived. It’s not quite that, but it’s close. I have a kinship with these characters that is so different from anyone else I’ve ever written. These are some of the most complex, well-developed, and interesting characters I’ve ever created, and I am damn proud of them. It feels a little like I’ve been writing their story for years, but am only just now putting the words on paper.
Now, before you start to shrink back into the shadows like, oh a book about religion no thanks, hear me out. Because it’s not what you’re thinking. Whatever you are thinking, flip it on its head and give it horns.
Because the Saints are going to destroy the world, and laugh while it burns.