Thursday, May 7, 2015

How I Accidentally Wrote a Novel - Sheila Seiler Lagrand

How I Accidentally Wrote a Novel
Sheila Seiler Lagrand

Kathi Macias has been a faithful writing friend and a gracious mentor. So when, in mid-2013, she announced that she was editing a volume of Christmas stories and asked who might like to contribute to the book, I raised my hand. I didn’t think she would actually select me, since I write nonfiction.

So when she said sure I was thrilled. And then I was terrified.

I spent a few weeks wondering what I had been thinking when I asked to participate. Then I got an idea. Then I wrote the story: “Yankee Doodle Christmas.” I sent it off to Kathi and the publisher and figured that was the end of that.
My daughter and son-in-law were stationed in Guam at Christmastime of 2013 and I spent the holidays with them. While I was there, I received an email from the publisher of Kathi Macias’ Twelve Days of Christmas. He asked if I wanted to continue the story that began in “Yankee Doodle Christmas.” He proposed that I write a chapter a month, and then the entire collection would be released as a paperback.

I must have been crazy from the tropical heat, because I said sure. I was thrilled. And then I was terrified. Actually, I was double-terrified, because I had also accepted the publisher’s invitation to join a team of authors to produce a three-volume series, The San Francisco Wedding Planner. In June I’d been a nonfiction writer. By January I was under contract for two fiction projects.

Fulfilling these obligations grew me. A writing instructor from my youth said sometimes you have to lie to tell the truth. She was referring to stories based on real-life experiences, but as I wrote Remembering for Ruth, a complementary axiom became clear: When I’m telling a made-up story, I still have to tell the truth. If I write a story set in, say, Cleveland in 1979 and describe actions that defy the laws of gravity, my story won’t be believable, because it doesn’t take account of truth.
Human hearts have their truths, too, and those truths demand honor in stories. I bet you can recall a story you read that didn’t feel real or true. If I write a story that defies the truths that pulse through our very veins, my story won’t inspire or frighten or sadden or delight or satisfy anyone, because nobody will feel truth in it. This, my friends, is why we embrace a little extraterrestrial who wants to phone home. This is why we can tell the good guys from the bad guys in a work of science fiction. Stories make sense to us when they illuminate truth.

While I was working on Remembering for Ruth I also discovered that I like to draw. A lot. A big whole lot. Colored pencils were my gateway medium, but now I’ve moved up to art markers and acrylic ink and even . . . working on canvas. Before I started writing a novel, I would have told you that I am the least visual person you could ever imagine. But I can’t make that claim anymore. Writing a novel grew me that way.

What I hope you will tuck into a quiet little corner of your heart is this: when you get a chance to step beyond your comfort zone, don’t be afraid. Or be afraid and take the step anyway. Go with it and grow.

Sheila Seiler Lagrand lives with her husband Rich and their three dogs in beautiful Trabuco Canyon, California. You can visit her website, connect with her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, and check her boards on Pinterest.

You can also visit Sheila's Amazon Author Page:


  1. I experienced the same terror! Glad you took the challenge, your work is incredible!

  2. What miracles God uncovered with one simple yes...

  3. Wow Sheila! I've had many of the same thoughts about fiction as a way of telling the truth! Maybe we are long lost cousins!