More than two hundred years ago, Robert Burns wrote, “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley.” That’s happened today. I meant to write about diagramming. But instead, I feel compelled to share the permutations of a manuscript on which I’ve worked thirteen years.
Back in 1999, while on a walk, I heard myself murmuring these words:
You want to know what? Speak up! My ears refuse the sound. Old age you know. You want to know who Yeshua is? Undoubtedly he is answer to prayer.
I’m old now. Lame. My joints stiff. My eyes rheumy. And memories fade in my setting. But in one memory I am ever young. The remembrance of that day when God’s promise took root in Elizabeth and me. It is not in me to forget. Who can forget benediction? Not I, nor one of mine.
This speaker had to be Zacharias—the father of John the Baptist. The next day, I walked again on the path carpeted by red and yellow autumn leaves and spoke these words:
Trying to trick me are you? You ask a deceptively easy question. Whom do you represent? Antipas? For months, I’ve preached repentance, holding fast to God’s covenant with my people. Question and answer. Yeshua is both. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Obviously, you do not. And so I speak in words of one syllable: He is the one.
Clearly, someone must have asked Zacharias and John, “Who is Jesus for you?”
I began to write. With the working title Who Is He for You? the manuscript became a series of monologues spoken by those who peopled the Gospel of Luke. Friends described these as “spiritual reflections.” No novel here.
In 2001-2002, those reflections became “almost a novel,” when I introduced a character named Ephraim. The twenty-seven monologues became the ribs; Ephraim’s crisis of faith, the musculature, held those ribs together. I called this The Jesus Interviews.
A wondrously kind editor praised the writing, but turned down the manuscript. It was too predictable, she said. Most people know what happened to Jesus and the manuscript closely followed his life as an itinerant preacher.
In 2003, a friend who’d written two historical novels published by HarperCollins pointed out that the manuscript lacked dramatic tension. It was about a man finding his way—with the focus on the way. To create a novel, I needed to focus on the man.
That same year, I asked a biblical professor to advise me as to the novel’s authenticity. With his help, I realized how little I knew about the Jewishness of Jesus. The professor provided me with an extensive reading list so that I might steep myself in first-century Judaism. I spent the next two years reading and absorbing the works of a number of biblical scholars—both Christian and Jewish.
In late 2005, my study impelled me to write a third incarnation of the manuscript: The Yeshua Spy. (I had decided to call Jesus by his Hebrew name: Yeshua.) My new plot put Ephraim into a dramatic situation that would reveal his character. Yeshua, however, tried to usurp the manuscript. I had to wrestle it away from him so as to keep Ephraim and his crisis of faith front and center.
Fast forward to 2012. I have written and polished nineteen drafts of a manuscript I now call The Reluctant Spy. Throughout this long writing saga, I repeatedly tried to find an agent to represent the work. No luck.
So today I find myself once again awaiting news from my historical novelist friend who is reading that nineteenth draft. Will she think the plot plausible? Is there enough tension in the story to engage the reader? Is there an audience for this iconoclastic novel? What do I do next?
Rabbie Burns also penned these words: “Hope springs exulting on triumphant wing.” Keep your fingers crossed for me.
Photographs from Wikipedia.