It is late at night in 1985, and if you drive west from the small town of Gap, PA, on Newport Road, the fields are dark. After you go over the first hill, you can’t see the lights from the little league baseball diamond anymore. Soon, you drive past the one-room, Amish schoolhouse on the left, then up over another sharp hill, and by now the night has swallowed you completely. You can barely see the outline of the trees. If there would be a moon, it would shine bright as a single headlight. It would glance off the creek as you go over the bridge and slow to make a right-hand turn.
But there is no moon, not tonight, and every time you slow the car, you can feel the darkness press in for a closer look. Keep driving. I want to show you something.
You thought you were on a back road already, but you turn right on to South New Holland Road, and now the road is barely two lanes wide with no line in the middle. Again, the darkness gathers, both warm and scary. Soon the road sweeps to the left, to the northwest, but you go straight, now on a single lane road. There’s the church. There’s the cemetery. There’s the farmhouse. Finally, you see a light.
It’s in one of the farmhouse windows. Inside the window, you can see an oversized box fan with a sheet attached, a sheet that billows up like a dome. Inside the dome is a boy, holding a flashlight so that he can read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or Hatchet or The Indian in the Cupboard. Or maybe it’s The Black Stallion or A Wrinkle in Time or The Hobbit. The warm night settles in through the screen on the window, and the pages of the book flutter in front of the fan.
The darkness on those fields is heavy, yet it is powerless in the face of that glowing dome of blowing air. He turns the page. He is oblivious to the dark.
The boy was me, and I soaked up words, absorbed stories. I tried my hand at writing a few of my own tales when I was young, but nothing caught. I tried a few more times in high school and college, more earnestly after I got married and we drifted from Florida to England to Virginia. But not until 30 years after that I laid inside the glowing dome and read my favorite books over and over again, not until nearly 11,000 days had passed, would I open an oversized envelope that contained a book contract for me to sign.
My book, THE DAY THE ANGELS FELL, would be born into the world.
In a world that promises get-rich-quick schemes and five easy steps to success, perseverance is not a popular topic. We watch people on television getting plucked from their ordinary lives and catapulted to fame, and we watch it every week. We dip our toes into the things we love to do and think it will be enough.
More and more, people ask me, “How can I make a living as a writer? How can I get an agent? How can I get a book deal?”
“Write 1,000 words a day,” I say. “Don’t revise while you write. Finish the stories you start.”
At that point, most people check out.
“Can’t you introduce me to your agent?” the more persistent ones will ask. “Won’t you read my story?”
There are things in us that will take years to surface. There are forms of our own lives that we have to grow into, like a tree adding ring after ring every year. Are you willing to work for 1,000 days to become what you can become? 11,000 days?
About Shawn Smucker
Shawn lives in Lancaster, PA, along with his wife and their six children. He is the author of Building a Life Out of Words and How to Use a Runaway Truck Ramp. The Day the Angels Fell is his first novel.
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It was the summer of storms and strays and strangers. The summer that lightning struck the big oak tree in the front yard. The summer his mother died in a tragic accident. As he recalls the tumultuous events that launched a surprising journey, Samuel can still hardly believe it all happened.
After his mother’s death, twelve-year-old Samuel Chambers would do anything to turn back time. Prompted by three strange carnival fortune-tellers and the surfacing of his mysterious and reclusive neighbor, Samuel begins his search for the Tree of Life–the only thing that could possibly bring his mother back. His quest to defeat death entangles him and his best friend Abra in an ancient conflict and forces Samuel to grapple with an unwelcome question: could it be possible that death is a gift?
Haunting and hypnotic, The Day the Angels Fell is a story that explores the difficult questions of life in a voice that is fresh, friendly, and unafraid. With this powerful debut, Shawn Smucker has carved out a spot for himself in the tradition of authors Madeleine L’Engle and Lois Lowry.