Fueled by an explosion of inspiration and angst, I wrote Our Company of Fools at the beginning of January 2016. I’d never written a book of that length that quickly. I’d never written a more personally emotional book. I never wrestled so much with a story through the ebbs and flows of editing and revision. It might be dramatic to say that Our Company of Fools was life-changing for me, and maybe it wasn’t quite that. But it did make a significant impact on my future writing, and for (what I hope) is the better.
There are a lot of things I’ve taken as a writer from Our Company of Fools. Understanding the meaning of “killing your darlings” as I cut characters and scenes I loved. Figuring out the dos and don’ts of sequel needs and the wisdom of writing standalone books versus series. How to play around with voice and tense (the book was originally written in past tense, not present as it is in the published version). How to start a book (a classic and reoccurring battle for me). The perseverance to edit until publication. How to find the happy medium between my vision and constructive criticism to make the story stronger. And, of course, the blend between themes and narrative. Did I do all these things perfectly? No. Some lessons are reflected in how the drafts progressed; others are stored away for future writings and growth. I’m satisfied with the published book, even while I know it isn’t perfect. That’s part of laying to rest the beast of perfectionism and pride while also recognizing, in humility, all that I still have to learn and all that I will do better in the future.
But there’s one lesson from Fools that I consider more influential, more important than the rest.
Our Company of Fools was a raw, emotional projected rooted in my beliefs, struggles, and feelings in early 2016. I had to write the story to process what I was experiencing and what I was learning from my struggle. The book is Early-College-Me on a page, the ink splattered with my own tears and vulnerabilities, the story fueled by years of wrestling with loneliness, with saying good-bye, with striving to find courage. And yeah, it was really frightening to share that deep part of my soul with the world. But sharing my writing, my words, my stories—I believe I’m called to do that, for the sake of building others up, if I can. I felt that the truth of my struggles and the charge to find light in the darkness, to press into community despite my own fears of rejection, as told through Leah Pool, were worth risking fear and anxiety of having others read my book. Showing and sharing the real and the hard was necessary.
Recognizing the real, personal struggle as the lifeblood of Our Company of Fools gave me a new perspective on my other books, too. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, my fantasy series with basic theme development and trope-ish characters didn’t satisfy me. There was something missing. A human element. A raw element. An element of relatable struggle. That was nowhere else in any of my other books, written or planned (except one other, which we’ll get to).
A number of factors contributed to my writing drought following Our Company of Fools. Sure, I dabbled in projects. Attempted new books. Tried out Fools’ sequels. Edited Our Company of Fools. But nothing stuck. Part of it was the season of life; I was an English major and heavily involved in student leadership during undergrad. I also lost part of my identity as a writer because I got caught up in those leadership roles and the newness of college. But even as I returned to embrace who I was as a writer, I couldn’t quite find my rhythm. I had a two-and-a-half year gap between finishing the rough draft of Our Company of Fools and finally finishing the questionable rough draft of the Fools’ sequel. Before that, I had finished an average of one and a half books a year during high school.
Exhausted by struggles with the Fools sequel and unable to figure out my blocks in my other fantasy series, in the midst of my gap year and another bout with depression, I stumbled across the remains of The Queen of Imagination, now known as the basis for the Whitman Court series. In the beginnings of that book, a little over half finished at the time, I saw a reminder of what made Our Company of Fools so compelling a project for me. Self-vulnerability had worked to produce Fools. It would work again to help me finish The Queen of Whitman Court. Though that book is for a younger audience, it still explores a lot of personal growth, struggle, and pain I went through as a kid.
As a young writer, I loved the epic. The adventure. The escapism of magic and worlds to explore. It’s what my fantasy series tended to focus on. Yes, there were raw moments. Yes, I did write some moving story arcs. But at the end of the day, it was always about the grand epicness, the fantasy adventure, the cool magic and the supernatural, godlike heroes. The gut-punch ending that broke ground. The marketability and originality.
As an older writer, post-Our Company of Fools, I do still fret about marketability, originality, and epicness. I am still tempted to fixate on those things. But the truth? I can’t be satisfied with stories that don’t grip that human part of me. That don’t ground me to the raw and real behind the magic. That don’t impact my walk in this Real World I exist in and am meant to love others in, to live in, to pursue God in.
Our Company of Fools taught me the importance of the human element of fantasy writing, that first made clear the truth of what truly makes stories meaningful and rich and beautiful and timeless. Emotion. Relatability. Reality even in the fantastical. It’s what resonates with me when I read Fools. It’s not the creepy descriptions and vivid depictions of the dream sequences in the book that I care most about (though they were kinda fun, if scary, to write). What I love most about Fools is the scene with Leah and Hallie and Bryce in the practice room, dumb food puns featuring syrup, and Leah and Hallie defying the dark, defying fear, and clinging to hope through talking it out together. It’s those things that draw me to Christ. It’s those things that remind me to love my Christian brothers and sister. It’s those things that remind me to reflect the Gospel to this broken world.
Post-Fools, I’m more aware of the need for an emotional, relatable, human element in my stories. It’s not enough to have a cool magic system or world. It’s not enough to plan epic battles and crazy plot twists. It’s not enough to build up to gut-punch endings or surprise resolutions. Those things are fun and entertaining. But their payoff means nothing without the real, without the human, without the ability to grow and learn and be moved by the story, to love the characters and to relate to their struggles, without the effective nudge toward Christ, the Gospel, and Truth that outlasts the glittery fiction and fantasy on the page.
That’s the most important lesson Our Company of Fools taught me. It gave me a heart burdened to write Real Stories, full of truth. Oh, I still write fantasy. But my hope and prayer is that my books are more than just another form of escapism; that my books are portals into Truths more meaningful, more lasting than this world and the paper my words are printed on; that even when the plot is forgotten and the intrigue of the world fades, the seeds of Truth and Hope remain in the hearts of my readers.