I’ve been working on this novel as long as some of you have known me. If you were getting tired of hearing me talk about it, believe me, I was more weary than any of you.

Finishing feels amazing. And seeing my work begin its journey into the great big world is an experience that is both scary and exciting. More on that in another post, though. Today I’m sharing about why it took so long for Kirby Mayhew to get where he was going.

The Three Act Structure

There is an old screenwriting adage that goes something like, “In Act I, get your hero up a tree. In Act II, throw rocks at him. In Act III, get him down.” This advice is good for authors, too, and I had this somewhere in mind while writing Kirby’s story. But my hero wasn’t so much in a tree as he was in a hole. I coaxed him out a bit, beat him for his trouble, then finally convinced him it was better above ground than below. In this case, the hole was in his heart, created by the loss of his beloved wife, Julie.

Heather K. Duff, Author of The Wrong: Kirby Mayhew Mystery Series

Photo Credit: Robin D. LeBlanc

I wanted to title this post, “The Sixth Stage of Grief: Writing a Novel,” but I wasn’t sure how appealing that would be. Who wants to click on that title and read about such sadness? Grief is painful, even if we’re not the ones in the middle of it. When I started Kirby’s story that’s just where I was…in that hole of grief. I’d lost both of my parents within an eight-month period, and though I was forty years old, in a sense I was feeling like an orphan. Or maybe the best word to describe the experience wasn’t orphaned, but untethered. The night my mother died I came home and stood in the backyard, looking up at the star-filled sky. I didn’t let her go—I was the one who was let go, like a hand releasing a balloon to the sky. I floated up and away. I stayed out there for a season, observing the world around me, not so much being a part of it.


I let you go
but it was I
who floated empty
to the sky

Coming Down from the Tree

In time, I drifted back down to earth and started living with the living again. That doesn’t happen overnight. It’s like thawing out, little by little you start to feel things again, to feel normal, if there is such a thing.

So this is where I found Kirby, starting to thaw. Feeling again, but awkwardly. I wrote the first third of the book and let it sit for a couple years. I picked it up again and rewrote the beginning as Kirby Mayhew’s world became more and more clear.

Then I walked away again. Because I was thawing too.

That numbness, that grace of God that shields your broken, exhausted heart was slowly being replaced with a nudge to live again, to feel again. And the further I got from that hole of grief, the less I needed its safety, its shelter. But I had a problem. Kirby was still in that hole, so every time I returned to his story, I had to go in that hole again. To feel the loss, the numbness, the waking. There was a period of time when I just couldn’t do it anymore. So there Kirby sat, waiting in the hole. Waiting for me to go in there and get him. Down from the tree, out of the hole, into the world of the living and the loving.

It is with great joy that I can finally say: Welcome back, Kirby. Now, go live.


  1. Robin LeBlanc on May 14, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    Wow…thanks for sharing Sissy. So happy for you and proud of you!

    • Heather K. Duff on May 14, 2016 at 4:09 pm

      Thanks, Sister! We need to take a little drive in the country. I need some photography. : )

  2. Jessica on May 14, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    I think this is beautiful and heartfelt. Makes me love Kirby even more. 🙂 And you too!

    • Heather K. Duff on May 14, 2016 at 4:11 pm

      Aw, thank you, Coach. And thanks for talking me through that poetry crisis. Love you too!

  3. A to Z Reflections - Jessica Ferguson on May 14, 2016 at 11:45 pm

    […] and coaching a writer who was trying to finish her novel. I’d love for you to read her story: Why It Took Seven Years To Write This Novel. I’m thrilled to say she accomplished her goal. Not only did she finish her book, but she […]

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