Why It Took Me 28 Years to Write My “Latest” Novel

The Story Behind Whisper of the Seventh Thunder

Part 1 of 2.

People ask me all the time where I get my ideas.  I have two answers.  One is for writers, and I usually give it at my writing workshops in context to seizing a teachable moment. 

The other is less precise, and much longer.

Story ideas come from somewhere we cannot completely understand.  Some intersection of our interests, our fears, our desires, our questions and – this is the mysterious part – something outside of ourselves.  Perhaps a calling, maybe a warning, but always a gentle push toward something we might not consider on our own, or even fully understand. 

Whisper was like that for me.

Sometimes we pass this off as growth.  In the case of Whisper, I’m convinced it was something more.

The core idea of this book came to me in 1978, in the middle of the night.  I bolted upright with the clarity of it, then quickly went back to sleep peacefully. 

The story emerged nearly 30 years later in the form of a novel, and the space between those two milestones continues to confound and intrigue me.

I actually didn’t write my original idea, and for a couple of reasons.

The first was that I felt the idea was beyond me at the time.  That I wasn’t ready for it. 

I’d written a bunch of stuff that was, quite deservedly, unpublished, and knew that to tackle a story on this scale required more skill than I possessed, or perhaps that I would ever possess.  Also, given the scope, I felt I needed to have already established some equity in the market as a writer, and while that didn’t quite happen to my satisfaction, about 25 years later I knew that after publishing four fairly successful novels it was now or never.

The other reason was that the original idea scared the hell out of me.

I was in my mid-20s at the time, and like many young adults I was exploring my own religious sensibilities and options.  I’d been brought up in a church-going home by a well-meaning alcoholic mother and an equally-well meaning Iowa farm boy with a temper and social issues, which created a confusing landscape of spiritual mentoring and modeling. 

I was pretty much on my own to figure out who I was and what I believed in that regard.  My sister was much better at it – she’s the finest Christian I know – but I continue to struggle with it to this day.

Even though I wasn’t much of a Bible reader, the Book of Revelation fascinated me from the beginning.  More accurately, it frightened me, and more than a little. 

If you don’t have any beliefs about God or the Bible, then Revelation is a distant or perhaps non-existent book of prophecy that reads like a fairy tale and has been inspiration for more than a few scary movies.

But if you do believe in the veracity of the Bible, this is like your parents telling you that the airplane is going to crash with you in it – this conversation is happening while you’re in the air, by the way – and if you have faith God will save you from the burning wreckage

The analogies and images from Revelations are not far removed from that metaphoric scenario.

At about the time the initial story came to me – I’m sure this is not a coincidence – I discovered the writings of Hal Lindsey (The Late Great Planet Earth), who had written several bestsellers that sought to explore and present the prophecies of the Book of Revelation in context to modern times.  Lindsey went so far as to interpret the cryptic descriptions related by the author (St. John – though which St. John remains in dispute – who received these revelations from a visiting angel while confined to a cave on the Island of Patmos off the coast of Ephesus, near what we called Turkey today). 

Lindsey gave the visceral meat of 20th century visualization to images that, he claimed, John had no meaningful reference for, therefore no other way to describe them than the cryptic, fantastic, ancient verbiage we read today.  What John saw as massive flying locust with stingers of death in their tails could be, according to Lindsey, military helicopters spitting lead from a rapid-fire machine gun.  Certain kings and prophets and emissaries of Satan were assigned roles in today’s global political landscape, including our own Presidents, and the whole thing suddenly seemed very real, and very terrifying.

In the midst of being enthralled and terrified and challenged by all of this, an idea came to me in the form of a question: what if I novelized the book of Revelation?  What if I did in fiction what Lindsey did in a non-fiction way and assigned present-day interpretation to John’s apocalyptic visions as described in Revelations, and then weaved a credible story around them, complete with political and social relevance? 

The idea gripped me like a religious Epiphany.  And so I began to study Revelations, as well as other books on the subject.

My mother and sister thought I had found the Lord, but actually I was trying to research a potential bestseller.

And that’s when I got really scared.

In my study of Revelation I came across two verses of Scripture that would change everything, and would be the basis for a hesitance to the write this story that would last nearly 30 years.

I knew I needed a hook, a McGuffin around which to wrap this story.  In searching Revelations for such an idea, those two verses rose up and slapped me into a confused stupor that would became the journey of the writing of this story, both from a literary and personal perspective.

The McGuffin, the hook I had been looking for, was the possible interpretation of Revelations Chapter 10, verse 4, in the midst of a description of what John saw as visions foretold by the voice of what he described as seven thunders.  He had already seen and written about visions from seven trumpets and seven bowls, and the seven thunders were the apocalyptic conclusion:

And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.”

To this day no human being has the slightest clue what that vision might have been.

The significance of that stopped me in my tracks for many years.

What could possibly be the rationale behind this Biblical instruction? 

The possibilities consumed me, literary and otherwise.  I concluded that since Revelations was, in fact, a description of the end of times, that it was the prophesized Armageddon itself, it could be nothing other than the key to knowing when it would happen. 

Revelation 10:4 was an apocalyptic timetable.  The gateway to eternity. 

Or so I chose to believe.

Why else would it be forbidden to commit to print?  For us to know and understand?  The actual events themselves had been described in detail, albeit from John’s two millennia-old, very human social perspective.  John wasn’t told the meaning of anything he saw, he simply wrote down what he saw in these visions, describing it in his own words. 

The answer held incredible dramatic potential.

I should state here that my intention and interest was always from a literary experience, rather than a spiritual one.  While respectful of the latter, even hopeful for it, it was never my purpose to preach or to evangelize, simply to write a fascinating story that capture the heart and soul of a reader to the same degree the entire landscape of Revelations had captured mine.

I was, and am, the last person who should be writing a book about religion, the Bible or anything close to sheparding folks toward the light.  Whisper of the Seventh Thunder is a secular thriller, not a religious book, in the same way that The DaVinci Code is not remotely a “Christian novel.”  Nothing wrong with those, it’s just the wrong place in the bookstore to file Whisper.

Given that context, about which I was clear even back then, I began to dig deeper.  I started concocting political scenarios on a global scale that would fit with what John had written, and might, in fact, be harbingers of a coming apocalyptic confrontation should things get out of hand.

And in that process I stumbled upon the real deal-changer.  

It was another passage from Revelation, this one from the final page of the entire Bible, Chapter 22, verses 18 and 19:

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.  And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

In other words, I’m goin’ straight to hell if I mess with this stuff.

Tomorrow: Part 2 of “Why It Took Me 28 Years to Write My “Latest” Novel”.

Check out the book’s website HERE (this article is one of several features you’ll find there.)

And of course, you can buy it on Amazon HERE, or ask your favorite bookseller to order you a copy.  Always appreciated.

(Storyfix.com is an affiliate marketer for Amazon.com.  Please buy your next 700 books by going there from here, which is about what it’d take for me to replace my printer cartridge.)

8 Comments

Filed under Book reviews for writers

8 Responses to Why It Took Me 28 Years to Write My “Latest” Novel

  1. Robert

    As far as my beliefs are concerned, I like to say I’m %100 spiritual, %0 religious. Ayn Rand’s Objectivisim has assisted me in recognizing my inner philosophy – one that I’ve always felt, but couldn’t define until I educated myself in her life’s work.

    With that said, my first attempt to write a novel was unsuccessful, in that it was uncompleted … The theme, inspired by Brown’s success, was religious in nature and centered around the anti-Christ. The more I thought about it, I discovered it’s just too big a subject for me to tackle in my rookie outing so I trashed the 200+ pages I wrote – plus, I was lost with no clear definition of story structure at the time.

    My failure made me realize that my dream of becoming a novelist, and screenwriter, is not going to happen overnight … despite my wildest fantasies. Even after a close study of Larry Brooks’ and Syd Field’s story paradigms, my current talent level is not where it needs to be to execute a story of that magnitude. My only option … practice practice practice at the cost of my standard of living.

    Despite graduating from the number-one business school in Florida, I will continue to work part-time, at a job that is in no way intellectually engaging, just to have the time to practice the craft I’ve embraced.

    My question to Mr. Brooks: what do you think of the USC and UCLA film schools, specifically, their Screenwriting MFA programs? Are the programs, assuming I can gain admission, the next best thing to winning a prestigious screenwriting competition? What about lesser screenwriting programs, and the Creative Writing programs of schools such as Cornell, Brown and NYU?

    Thank you for your time and response.

  2. Patrick Sullivan

    Having finished Whisper, this is going to be interesting reading for part 2. I’m still digesting it and thinking about the whole thing, so I haven’t been able to formulate much into words on the topic yet.

    Will be anxiously awaiting the second half of this post.

  3. Martijn Groeneveld

    Ever considered the thought that you writing this novel IS one of signs that herald the Endtime? Maybe you could still recall all the books and start praying? Man, you’re going straight down to the City of Dis, where the heretics gnash their teeth in anguish! 😉

    All in good fun, ofcourse.

    Greetings,

    Martijn

  4. Fascinating.

    I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who has ideas for books that I’m not ready to write. It’s hard to push aside the stories, but I know I couldn’t do them justice yet. Although, I suppose it’s like parenthood. If we waited until we felt truly prepared, we’d never have kids.

  5. Pingback: Part 2: Why It Took Me 28 Years to Write My “Latest” Novel

  6. You brought up a very interesting point. Where do ideas for novels come from? I never thought about it before. My ideas came from different sourses. When I retired as an electronic engineer I began dreaming about where technology would take us. One of my ideas came from a true story my father told me. The others came from dreams I had. I think they were given to me by God.

    The series by Hal lindsey are some of my favorite books. However if your interested in the end times you have to read Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins “Left Behind” series. After reading their books on the bible’s life after the rapture, I knew that I could never write a book on the Bible’s last days. They have done to good of a job. There is nothing left to write.

  7. Hey Larry,

    You know, I was glad to see that you got the idea in the middle of the night, basically out of nowhere. I have not yet come up with an idea during my waking hours as far as I can remember. The very basis for every script or novel I’ve got in my head now came to me in the middle of the night interrupting my sleep or when I awoke in the morning.

    My only hope is that it doesn’t take me 30 years to bring it from mind to page!

    Congratulations again sir!

    Take Care,
    Chris

  8. Monica Rodriguez

    Sorry, Larry. I’m just catching up after a busy week.

    As one who believes everyone must find their own spiritual path, and who has found a decidedly unreligious spiritual path for myself, I must admit I found it amusing when you said: “My mother and sister thought I had found the Lord, but actually I was trying to research a potential bestseller.” That’s a keeper.

    I’m fascinated to hear how you came to write this story. Thanks for sharing it with us. And it’s a great lesson in what to do with those ideas that wake you in the middle of the night – or what not do with them.