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The four questions of “Vanessa”

Greetings, kindly readers!

Starting out our fine journey through Vanessa the Wonder-worker, it’s helpful to begin with a little of the thought process that happened before anything got written down. Namely, the questions that the book had to answer. This book ended up a lot more complicated than the last one, and in order to know why, I often had to come back to the questions I had and what it took to answer them.

There are really only two:

  1. What happened to the Every Tuesday Club (ETC) over the year between the end of the last book and this one, and what happens next?
  2. Same question for Vanessa — what happened, and what happens?

In Queen Abigail the Wise, I explain how my little girl Abigail ended up forming a group out of the girls who were sort of thrown together when their parents met at church for meetings. And the Every Tuesday Club, as it was named, always had a mission, as Abigail saw it: that the five girls would help people solve their problems.

"Vanessa" was so complicated that I had to resort to a calendar and color-coded sticky notes to keep it all straight!

“Vanessa” was so complicated that I had to resort to a calendar and color-coded sticky notes to keep it all straight!

I’ll leave it to the last book to explain how that came about and how it worked out, but as it unfolded, we came to know Abigail and her four friends — because eventually, they were friends, even though they didn’t start out that way — but probably none as well as Vanessa. Vanessa was the most contentious of the group, the most sharp-tongued and the biggest skeptic. She didn’t like the whole idea, and it wasn’t hard to realize that she was one of those “difficult” people who so often are hiding heartaches of their own.

Maybe that’s why I always knew that the next book in the series would be about her. As I’ve said, she is often listed by fans as their favorite character. In a way — no offense, Vanessa — that may surprise me. My own nature is most closely aligned with Abigail’s. And so I find Vanessa to be a little shocking at times — mouthy, brash, too “bold” (in the old-fashioned sense of the word). But she also has that side that I notice in people like that — a warm heart, a fiery spirit and great courage.


The ETC and Vanessa

Back to my two questions for a minute. Not all that hard to imagine what happened (and happens) to the Club. Having been introduced to the parish council — in a Christmas story you can download HERE — they would begin to enter a phase of church life where they would operate like a kind of little shadow operation. But how would that go? Would a club like that really be accepted by grownups who understood that it had a mission? Probably not. And what could they do about that? That’s what the book would have to spell out.

As for Vanessa, she came out of the last book having survived a kind of family crisis (which I’ll leave vague … no spoilers for those who haven’t read Abigail). But it’s time now for her to begin to get past that. It’s time, actually, for her to begin to “come online” as Abigail did.

Abigail's moment of truth

Abigail’s moment of truth

I said in my posts about the last book that Abigail was really about a person waking up to the reality of Christianity: waking up to the fact that the words you hear in church aren’t just words; waking up to the fact that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are, in fact, all-powerful, all-knowing, merciful, loving … and alive in every moment of your day, if you only have consciousness to begin to perceive it. Abigail came to a certain moment of truth, and on the other side of it, she was changed. What will happen to Vanessa in this book is the same thing — she has to wake up.

But given Vanessa’s nature, that led me to another question.


What about the world?

In the first book, I could keep the action relatively small and church-related. But Vanessa is a different person, and even though she loves her family, she would have to be looking out restlessly at the world, already gung-ho to figure out her place in it. That is really sort of the elephant in the room, if you’re writing a Christian book for a Christian audience. What about the world? The fact is, the Church has always been in a kind of revolution against the world’s culture — even the briefest reading of the Gospels and the epistles prove that, let alone our centuries of history. But when it comes to a work of fiction for young readers, do you have to talk about the fact that there is a lot of antagonism against us in the secular culture, sometimes even in our daily dealings with others? Couldn’t you skip all that?

I really wanted to. After all, my characters are young; my readers are young. These aren’t happy things to go over. The problem is, this is the truth of our lives right now, and we begin encountering this conflict even in grade school. If a person home-schools, they will still find that children are exposed to it through books, movies and TV shows — the world that is presented by secular writers and filmmakers is either totally silent about God and His Church, or it is critical. The world quietly makes its case for a godless universe just by presenting it over and over as the only reasonable conclusion, and we in the Church don’t fight back, except by trying to teach otherwise in our churches. There are certainly Christian books, movies and shows, but they can tend to make it look as if we live in a bubble, never encountering a non-believer. It just didn’t seem very real-world, which meant that it didn’t seem very “Vanessa.”

character_Vanessa1I didn’t have to go there, but given her boldness, I thought it was the only authentic answer to what happens. In order to approach her own moment of truth, a person like Vanessa would always have to come to terms with the world’s culture: its temptations, challenges and its attacks. That culture has claimed many believers and steered them away from the Truth. Would it do that to Vanessa?

No, but it certainly might affect someone close to her. So the story of Vanessa is secondarily one about how you save those who are floundering in their faith. In order to pass through the challenge of growing out of childhood, she will have to give everything she has to rescue someone she loves. And how do you do that? If the third question is “What about the world?” the fourth question comes from that …


What about the miraculous?

There are many claims that Christians make that are debated and held in deep suspicion among non-believers. But they all seem to come down to this: We believe there is a world beyond the world of our senses, and that our God Who made the world can go beyond the usual laws of physics. That is either a puzzlement or just a scandal to those who don’t know that God is real and not just a figment of our imagination. It seems like the central question on which we are often fighting our battles — do miracles exist, or don’t they? If Vanessa has to encounter the contentious world, then this is what it will come down to: What about miracles?

This ended up being the biggest part of the story that I had to deal with, and it’s one of the other ways to look at the whole book. If someone asked you to show them a miracle, what would you do?

If we’re all intrigued enough now — or maybe just worn out with all this unnecessary background — I think we’re ready to actually crack open the book.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin …



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