By: KJ Cartnell
In an earlier blog, I described the moment of inspiration for my novel, The Gospel of Thomas. The concept went through a long gestation and underwent a thorough revision before I was reading to begin drafting.
I initially paired my hero, Thomas, with the eldest of the Godson sisters, beautiful, headstrong Cassidy. Tom and Cassidy were the same age, and knew each other from the neighborhood. He liked her because she was beautiful. She was drawn to him because he was forbidden – he didn’t go to her church or her Christian high school.
As I developed Cassidy’s family, however, I became increasingly interested in Cassidy’s younger sister, Adeline. Unlike Cassidy, whose attitude towards faith and religion were more cavalier, Adeline was a committed, hard core believer. I didn’t want her faith to be blind and shallow, but rich and fully tested.
Initially, Adeline has a school-girl crush on her older sister’s boyfriend. Slowly, over time, they grew to be friends, then more than friends. I did not want Thomas and Adeline to be diametrically opposed to one another. Adeline should have doubts and questions that she keeps hidden from her family, and she finds these doubts reflected in Thomas.
I imagined her, as a young girl, sitting on a park bench and discussing religion with a disillusioned Catholic priest. Some of these scenes were humorous while others were profound and haunting.
In another scene, young Adeline acquires a box of college textbooks at a yard sale. The books had belonged to a young collegiate who had died in a car accident. The sisters refer to them as the Dead Boy’s Books. Adeline is drawn to a book about animals. I envisioned a book with many color pictures, accompanied by Attenborough-esque narration. Cassidy peruses the box and discovers a human sexuality textbook, which she promptly confiscates. The books remain a secret between the sisters for years.
I was pleased with these initial ideas, but there were problems, too. I wanted this to be a love story, and I was uncomfortable with the idea of my hero being 2-3 years older than my heroine. If Thomas is 20 and Adeline 17 when the two become physically intimate with one another, the questions of consent and coercion become difficult to answer.
As Adeline grows older, she begins to rebel against her strict family upbringing until she reaches a moment of crisis. In the original outline, when Adeline reaches this point, she is still seventeen. I had the good fortune, in the spring of 2011, of discussing my ideas with a family law judge. Without giving too much away, it made a big difference, legally, if Adeline reaches this scene at 18 rather than 17. If she was still a minor when this incident occurs, my plot could go dramatically off course.
Confronted with these two issues, I decided, in May of 2011, to scrap the initial outline and start over. I wrote out a short story of Thomas and Adeline first meeting. The two strike up a conversation in an airport lobby and discover that they are the same age, from the same neighborhood, but they didn’t know one another because all this time they had gone to different schools. Over a late-night flight to Houston, they fall in love.
I had the first chapter of my novel. It was time to put my outline back together again. For a month, ideas came in a flood. I was writing them down as fast as I could, desperately hoping that I wouldn’t forget some crucial item before I could record it. Crucial scenes from the original concept, including the scenario involving the Dead Boy’s books and the conversations with Father Mahoney, worked their way back into outline. Regretfully, beautiful Cassidy was shunted aside, limited to a handful of scenes.
All this time, I was writing “The Dangers of Black Cats” and Liam Wren and the Dragon Wand for HarryPotterFanFiction.com. On November 25th, 2012, I posted “The Long Goodbye,” Dragon Wand’s final chapter. Eighteen months had passed since I had written that scene at the airport. Nearly four years after I had that early morning daydream, I was finally ready to write The Gospel of Thomas.