From Personal Loss to Novel: One Author’s Path (Guest Post by Amber J. Keyser)

Today on the blog, author Amber J. Keyser shares how she began writing The Way Back from Broken, her young adult debut novel.

The Way Back from Broken begins with a quote from “The Epigrams of Lusin,” translated by Lin Yutang.

Hope is like a road in the country: There was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence. 

A novel is much the same. It begins with an idea, a seed, a feeling, but the author must walk many miles with the story before a book comes into existence.

Five years ago, I knew I was going to write about being shattered by loss and finding the strength to put the pieces together again. I knew I would be writing from experience, from the deep well of grief I knew after the death of my first daughter, but I also knew that I didn’t want the story to be about me.

But whose story was I going to write?

Five years ago, on my birthday of all days, I was walking up my long dirt driveway to get the mail, feeling sad about turning forty and full of heartache about the daughter that I never got to know. Unbidden and unexpected, a boy’s voice filled me.

Look—I’m telling you. Everybody’s life is just a let-down, dumb-ass mess of compromises. Try to prove me wrong. I’m not gonna be holding my breath or anything.

This boy told me his name—Rakmen. And I could see him. I knew his dad was black and his mom was Latina. And the shards of his heart sliced into my own. I would be writing Rakmen’s story. I would be writing about how we learn to live when we have been broken. I would be peeling the story from my own guts and giving it to Rakmen to carry.

This boy was different from me in many ways. His grief brought silence. My grief brought loquacity. His family sundered. Mine drew together. He was comfortable on city streets. I require wilderness. His grief was fresh, the blood barely dry. Mine was well-worn and familiar.

I took this boy—this deeply wounded boy—and I threw him to the wolves. I put Rakmen in a place that terrified him with people he disliked. I pushed him beyond every limit, and I gave him an impossibly heavy burden. I forced him to find his way through the dumb-ass mess.

Together Rakmen and I made a story. It took most of the last five years. And as we walked together, a strange and remarkable thing happened. When Rakmen shouldered his loss and grief, my own weight was lifted. As he found his way, I found clarity. Under our very feet, a path did indeed come into existence and it was the way back from broken.

And as you can see from the pictures of my family this summer, it was worth it.

The author and her husband
The author’s son and second daughter

Thanks, Amber.

The Way Back from Broken is a recent ALAN Pick and also has a starred review from Booklist. Look for it on October 1 in bookstores near you. 

To read more from Amber J. Keyser, you can visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and check out a Q&A with her we did last April on the blog.