In my last post I promised to write about the beginnings of THE HORSTBERG SAGA, and hopefully along the way it will answer some of the frequently asked questions that have come to me through the years.
I began writing when I was sixteen. My sister and I cowrote a novel which I doubt will ever see the light of day. It was practice. But it did awaken in me a very strong conviction that writing fiction was my calling in life. I certainly had no idea how far that conviction would take me, nor how intensely difficult the journey would be. I can look back now and see that the first seeds of Horstberg were planted in my mind during those high school years. There was a song I loved and a novel I’d read that both intrigued me, as if there were just some tiny elements in them that were leading me to something more that I needed to figure out. A few years later when my first child was an infant, the story began to take shape and I started writing. I was a terrible writer back then, which I define to mean that the storytelling was a gift and the story was coming to my mind very clearly, but I didn’t have the writing skills to transfer what I could see and hear in my mind into anything remotely readable. But being young and insecure in a world where having the hobby of being a romance novelist did not fit into any category of normality, I stopped writing completely for about three years. I had written a detailed outline of the first Horstberg book (although at the time I believed it to be the ONLY one; no saga was intended initially) and I stuffed it away somewhere and focused on trying to find other avenues of creativity that would soothe me. I taught dance and ran my own dance studio for two years. I did counted cross stitch and a lot of sewing. I tried to learn cake decorating and did a lot of crafty things; the things that all the other women I knew were doing. When my second child was moving toward a year old, I experienced what I have come to call “A Horstberg Day.” There are only a handful of people in my life who know what that means, but if they hear that phrase, they know EXACTLY what it means.
I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday, which I have come to learn means that it was undoubtedly a spiritual moment, and it had enormous emotional impact. I recall being near the front window of the little house we were renting, and glancing outside to see that the trees across the street were almost completely bare of leaves, and there was a flock of crows playing among the branches. The sky was heavy and dark with the threat of that first storm when autumn converges into winter. The wind was blowing and the last leaves of autumn were being tugged off the trees. I felt drawn to go outside as if I’d been hypnotized. I remember sitting on my porch and just taking in the atmosphere as if it could fill me up, the way water soaks into a dry sponge. I thought to myself that this was the kind of day that Abbi had become lost on the mountain above the valley of Horstberg, and Cameron had saved her life. It was exactly this kind of day! And then I felt it flood back into me. The plot, the characters, the absolute love of storytelling that was a part of my deepest self all flooded back into me. I knew in an instant that I had been giving into a form of peer pressure that had been squelching a gift God had given me that I needed to acknowledge and use, even if it caused an upset in my life. It felt as if I needed to write or die; I believe I would completely shrivel up inside and die of unhappiness if I didn’t fight for the right to be a storyteller. My entire life changed in that Horstberg moment; Horstberg was the means by which my gift was brought back to me and I finally, fully accepted it into my being and committed myself to this life riddled with overwhelming challenges and opposition, and remarkable creative experiences and miracles.
Of course I’ve written many, many book besides the five novels that now comprise the Horstberg Saga, but Horstberg is most precious to me. The corporation I have through which I do my business transactions is called Key to the Kingdom Productions. For me, Horstberg represents the kingdom (given the castle and the duke in the story it’s kind of really a kingdom) but metaphorically for me it’s the place I go in my mind where my characters and stories exist, and the key that takes me there is this God-given gift that has always left me in awe. I often feel like being a storyteller has been both a blessing and a curse, but I think that’s the way all truly good things must feel to anyone who experiences them. I have truly invested blood, sweat, and tears into these books. I have sacrificed and fought and struggled to get them written the way I believe in my deepest self they were meant to be written, and I have fought even harder to make them available to the public. None of this turned out the way I expected. Publishing has changed a great deal, and the story has met a great deal of resistance which differs depending on what group of people you talk to. There are the stuffy Mormons who make up what some of us in the business refer to as the Self-appointed Morality Patrol who believe that some of my historical fiction is horrible because people don’t always make the best choices and human intimacy and the associated feelings are actually acknowledged. I have been accused of writing pornography and “detailed sexual acts.” If you’ve read the books, or you do in the future, I hope you will see that these people have no idea of the definition of these accusations. I stand by what I’ve written and know that it was done with God’s blessing, the way it was intended to be written. I can’t put work out into the world that will make a positive difference if it’s written in a way that’s unrealistic, stuffy, or contrived. These characters are not Mormons and it’s ridiculous to assume they would behave as if they were. I’ve also come up against enormous roadblocks over the course of many years in trying to get these stories published. I can’t count how many times I was told (through the medium of rejection letters) that the story was good, the writing was good, but it was just too . . . different, and it didn’t fit into any particular slot. Well . . . hello . . . my whole point was NOT to fit into a slot, but to create something that rose above other fiction because it IS different.
Now they are finally published and available, but there were no huge advances (as I often dreamed of) and they mostly sit on amazon and remain unnoticed. My heart hurts over thinking of them remaining so obscure when my heart is so invested. But I’m holding to the belief that all the love and hard work I poured into them will pay off.
More than thirty years since my “Horstberg Day” experience, I always anticipate those kind of days in the autumn when the sky has a certain, indescribable look, and there’s an unmistakable feeling in the air that winter is pushing its way through. I think of Abbi and Cameron (as well as their posterity and loved ones) and how much a part of my lives they have been. Their journey is so closely integrated into my own life’s journey, and I love them dearly for all that they taught me as they each came to understand who they really are and what God had intended for them to do with their lives.
I think I need to go check in with them and see how they’re doing. There are some scenes that will never grow old, and I hear them calling to me.
Love you all! Anita www.horstbergsaga.com