DEAN KOONTZ, one of the most successful novelist of our era, tells an interesting story about how his book Odd Thomas, now a series of books, came to be. He said in a podcast that he was working on his novel The Face. While he was writing, a line came to mind: “My name is Odd Thomas and I lead an interesting life.” That’s it. Just those few words. Koontz stopped writing for a bit and began jotting notes. Soon he had 15 or so pages of handwritten scribblings. He put it aside and returned to the work at hand. Once done with his current project, he returned to his notes and one of the most successful novel series was born.
I love such stories. Writers are often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” and we do our best to avoid answering. Why? Because there is no one answer. Ideas can come from a newspaper article, a dream, or just out of nowhere—like Odd Thomas.
The recent release (re-release) of my first novel has me recalling earlier days—days before I committed to writing an novel. BY MY HANDS came to be about 20 years ago and the idea for it popped up from nowhere. Well, not nowhere, but somewhere. I can remember the moment the nugget of the idea came to me—and it’s a little embarrassing.
I was a young pastor, serving in my first church in San Diego. I wish I could tell you I had it all figured out, but I can’t. I stumble through the first years of ministry, learning from oversights, mistakes, and blunders. The first years of ministry is more educational for the pastor than for the congregation. I learned a lot about myself. More than I wanted to know.
This came home when I received a call. A young child of one of my parishioners had fallen out of a moving car. The girl was about four years old. You can guess the kind of images that came to mind: gruesome, frightening, heartbreaking. The caller had no other information other than the youngster was at Children’s Hospital. It’s a world-class hospital but even world-class hospitals can’t do miracles.
I drove to Children’s, my gut wadded into a tight, hard ball. I parked and walked into the facility. It was my first time there. I had never been in a children’s hospital. Never. The halls were shiny and smells of disinfectant, medications, and other things I didn’t want to know about hung in the air. Many of the doorways into patient rooms and wards were open and I glanced in some as I passed. One was a playroom where a dozen children played quietly together. All of them were bald.
"A few steps later I noticed something different about myself. I was no longer glancing in the rooms. I was looking at the shiny floor and nothing else. Shame washed over me."
A few steps later I noticed something different about myself. I was no longer glancing in the rooms. I was looking at the shiny floor and nothing else. Shame washed over me. I plowed on until I made it to the room with my parishioners inside. I stiffened my spine and entered.
Good news. The child who had fallen from the moving car had only a couple of scrapes and a bruise or two. It turns out the car was moving very slowly when the tyke figured out how to open the door. This being the days before mandatory car seats, she managed to exit the vehicle. A frightening event for everyone but one that ended well. She went home later that day—the bald children in the playroom did not.
I was relieved, a little wrung out, and very angry with myself. I had been shown my own cowardice, my reluctance to look on the pain of others. Better to avert my eyes than see reality, I thought. By the time I exited the hospital, I was thoroughly disgusted with myself. I wished I could do something for the kids imprisoned by their disease. I wished for the power of healing.
I have very little patience with modern faith healers. I believe God works miracles, but I have serious doubt that He does it through people in expensive suits cavorting around a stage in front of television cameras.
“If I had the gift of healing, this hospital would be my first stop.”
There was the idea. I began to wonder what it would look like if someone truly had the gift of healing began healing people in a major hospital. This led to a string of questions and some deep theology.
Elements of the story presented themselves one after another. What if the healer worked secretly? Instead of calling attention to himself, what if he snuck in, healed someone, then snuck out in the same manner he came? Why would he do that? Who would he heal? What would happen to the hospital when word got out? What would doctors do if forced to face a true miracle? What would happen if the healed suddenly disappeared under violent circumstances?
By the time I reached home, the seed of an idea had grown roots. Years later, By My Hands would find a publisher (that’s a story for another post). Now, 20 years later it’s back—it’s new all over again.
Next up: “How By My Hands found a publisher.”
Thanks for reading.