Where Did This Come From? (Why I chose The Just Beyond over other story ideas)

When I sat down in 2012 and began drafting The Just Beyond, it was the book I felt ready to write. I knew, though, that it was a risky choice. For one thing, any time you express a perspective that touches on religion, you are going to draw some angry fire. If you openly question or contradict somebody’s formal doctrine, it’s going to be worse. If you construct a framework that clearly extends beyond liturgical canon, and does so in specific, intimate detail, well … keep your head down. 🙂

But the risk didn’t stop there. I knew this was going to be a trilogy, and I knew some people wouldn’t want it for that reason — most critically, some publishers and agents. A trilogy implies a story that is left incomplete in the first volume — and why take a chance on an unknown author with a narrative that’s not even done?

As the manuscript developed, a third hazard emerged. The Just Beyond wound up nearly 180,000 words — almost twice the preferred length for a first novel, representing additional cost in both time and resources for a publisher to work with. It was ironic, because going in, I worried that I might not have enough plot material to produce even a novella. By the end, I was worried instead that 200,000 words wasn’t going to be sufficient to tell the tale! (It would have been close. I cut out a whole chapter set in New Orleans that I dearly loved because I realized it wasn’t necessary and leaving it in was not smart.) And, in fact, when it came time to submit the manuscript, a few publishers refused to look at it just due to the length.

It all worked out in the end, but I count myself lucky. These obstacles could easily have blockaded any commercial success. And I knew that when I started. Yet I believed in the story, lived in it, felt passionately enough about it to dismiss the dangers and pound it out. Because, when it came down to it, I was convinced the concept was strong.

I wrote The Just Beyond with an overriding objective in mind: to produce the kind of book I love to read. No story resonates with everyone, but I’m happy to say that for me, The Just Beyond fulfills that goal. In my eyes, no human endeavor surpasses the quest for meaning in life, the search for purpose both in our own existence and on the grandest cosmic scale. At its core, The Just Beyond is a story of that quest.

The Just Beyond is being marketed as a supernatural thriller, and it is. But it also delivers answers to the fundamental questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What am I “supposed” to do? And what lies ahead in the Afterlife, if there is one at all? These questions are powerful to me — transcendent above all other concerns. And that is why, among dozens of viable story ideas, this is the one I chose to write first.

I don’t claim that the Afterworld depicted in these pages is literally true. I’d be shocked if it were. But I do claim it could be. And I’m convinced the truth is, if not this vision, at least something equally profound. The universe is too massive, too beautiful, too packed with astounding surprises for anyone to claim they know with certainty what awaits beyond death.

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader”, I was once told. It struck me like lightning, and I’ve poured my soul into this book. Parts of The Just Beyond can still bring me to tears — not because it’s “good”, which is not for me to judge, but because it’s so personal. Without a doubt, it was the right story to do. If you read it, I hope it puts a smile on your face. And maybe a tear or two. 🙂

– mark

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