Where did MESSENGER come from? What inspired you to write it? I’m often asked those are questions by listeners and in Book Club groups.
Believe it or not, the seeds of MESSENGER began way back in 2013, when, during a time of great need, I begged for a message, for the answer to an overwhelming problem. My college-age daughter was sick with severe symptoms that doctors could not diagnose. She couldn’t sleep and needed help. So, I went to New York City, where she was a student, we checked into a hotel together, and she struggled courageously to salvage her semester.
Every day while my daughter was in class I’d walk the cold, gray streets of New York, stare into the faces of the multitude of people I passed, wonder if they were as desperate As I was. Did they seek a message too? If only someone could give them to us.
As the weeks passed, I often saw the same people every day as they went about their lives and came to feel a part of the neighborhood surrounding the hotel. Sometimes I’d sit on a bench in Washington Square Park and watch all the activity flow past me—walkers, dancers, skateboarders, moms pushing strollers, lovers, dog-walkers, musicians, artists.
Being a writer and seeking to distract myself from constant worry, I journaled descriptions of faces, interesting people, physical locations, sounds, smells. I had no idea at the time I was working on a new book. But, in fact, every location and most of the descriptions of people Alana and Messenger pass or encounter came from those journal entries.
Fast forward to our happy ending— a brilliant young doctor finally discovered the source of my daughter’s health problems, she successfully finished her semester and all was and continues to be well with her. But my time in New York stayed with me.
During the years I worked on writing MESSENGER, sensing what it could be and how to give it form, I remembered a recent read of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick–definitely a Clinamen in the literary world. His use of multiple narratives and points-of-view, journals, lists, explications and quotations were huge inspirations for how I chose to structure the novel. Of course, I’m certainly not comparing MESSENGER with Moby Dick—I’m just admitting my debt to this tour-de-force!
At the same time, I was reading Thomas Keating and Cynthia Bourgeault, learning about and experiencing the Wisdom tradition thorough them and other writers. Talk about a Clinamen in my understanding of the true nature of reality!
My process of writing started with that longing for a message and wondering if other people had that longing, too. What if somebody could just hand you the message you wanted/needed as she passed you on the street? I started with Messenger herself, giving messages to seemingly random people all over New York City. But I knew I needed another character and for some action to happen! Then I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the wildly successful and amazing non-fiction book by Rebecca Skloot. Rebecca’s dogged determination to tell Henrietta’s story and to dig deep to uncover it, while at the same time developing personal relationships with Henrietta’s family, moved and inspired me. I thought, what if a young journalist learned about Messenger and wanted to tell her story, and was, in the process, profoundly changed by the experience? Alana was born.
MESSENGER was finally complete in mid-2019. The end of that year, it made the rounds of traditional publishers, thanks to my wonderful agent, April Eberhardt. It got reads but no traction. Then then holidays, 2020 came and everything changed.
On the morning before my birthday in April 2020, with the COVID epidemic surging, I awoke with a clear and urgent message of my own—MESSENGER’s time has come. Now! I had to figure out a way to get MESSENGER out. My first idea was to create a website and release the book as a serial novel, as Dickens, George Eliot and even Herman Melville did. A release to look forward to each week harkened back to the old days when we’d all wait patiently for the next episode of our favorite TV show or count down the days until the annual showing of The Wizard of Oz or White Christmas.
I queried some valued friends and confidants, especially Rachel Pater, and received this advice: make it a podcast. With everyone getting used to the new normal of what felt like 24/7 screen time, our eyes were fried! Podcasts are a way to listen wherever you are—on those blessed walks outside, while cooking dinner or when trying to fall asleep. Also, the soothing effect of having a story read to you, transports those lucky ones of us back to our childhood. Comfort. When Rachel told me if I decided to do it, she’s be willing to narrate, it was a done deal.
Thanks to our amazing podcast team of Rachel Pater, Brandon O’Neill, Wells Hanley and Lance Koehler, MESSENGER: A NOVEL IN 16 EPISODES launched in July, 2020. You can listen to it here on my website on the Podcast page, at messengerthenovel.com or wherever you get your podcasts.
Fall, 2021 marks a new beginning for MESSENGER as a print book. My hope for all readers is they will enjoy entering Messenger’s world and find comfort, hope, perspective, motivation and inspiration to live through the challenges each new day brings us. For all of you, Dear Readers, may you receive the message you need most.