“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” ~Albert Einstein
The idea for the Perfect Outcast came to me during the hardest year of my life. September 27, 2010 was a busy Monday. My youngest was five months old and had significant health needs due to a genetic condition called 22q deletion syndrome (though I didn’t know his diagnosis at the time.) He was born with a cleft palate, polydactyly, hypotonia, and other developmental delays. I spent more than one hour out of every three, round-the-clock, pumping my milk and feeding him through a Haberman Feeder. I also had a two year old with behavioral challenges and three older children in school. I taught weekly music classes, with around 20 students. We moved into a new home a few months prior, and packed boxes still cluttered the rooms and hallways. My husband helped whenever he could, but as he was the breadwinner of our family, I didn’t wish to deprive him of too much sleep. So I trudged on. I had little time to do anything more than teach my classes, care for the children and feed my baby. Yet somehow, the impression broke through my sleep-deprived fog and took hold: I was going to write a book.
The idea should’ve died when dinnertime rolled around. Or at least been shelved for that (fictional) season of unlimited free time when my baby started kindergarten. But instead, it developed into a supernatural world much like our own, with themes, plot twists, and characters arcs. A selfish narcissist ruled his world free of physical pain and death, simply to keep his subjects weak and dependent on him. One girl, Alina, wasn’t beautiful like the other immortals. And she didn’t know why.
The story unfolded in my mind, and that day I began to write. This creative outlet sustained and lifted me through the heartbreaking months that followed, which included my mother’s unexpected death from a brain aneurism, an ectopic pregnancy and emergency surgery, and my son’s diagnosis, with his endless therapy sessions, doctor appointments, case manager visits, and day trips to meet with surgeons and specialists. Eight months later I had the rough draft of book one, and an aspiration that has daunted and exhilarated me for nine years since.
My book seems like a miracle, and it certainly is. But it also makes perfect sense. If I ever needed an escape, it was during this time. People frequently ask me how I found time to write a novel. The answer is cliche—you make time for the things you love. Even if it’s a little time—like 30 minutes daily while the baby is napping. When times are hard, steady persistence may provide the healing we need most. Small, consistent efforts accomplish much more than big, inconsistent ones. As Steve Martin put it: “Persistence is a great substitute for talent.”
I wrote the Perfect Outcast through persistence, not talent. Though I’ve always loved to write and took courses in college to improve my skills, that talent simmered on the back burner until it stewed into a congealed, rancid mess that threatened to set off the fire alarm, then required days of soaking just to save the pan. But while the pot was simmering, I was busy learning lessons no college course could teach me, such as: a potty trainer and evil dictator have similar psychology, character motivation drives sibling rivalry, and sedentary hours spent drip-feeding a baby brings ample opportunities to reflect, ponder, and read, read, read.
In my fictional world of Pria, the inhabitants are accustomed to an easy life of pleasure that hampers their ability to improve, progress, and have meaningful relationships. In this way, adversity is crucial to happiness. I agree with Albert Einstein—in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. We choose whether we notice and take those opportunities, whether we open our minds to new ways of seeing the world and the people in it. We decide whether to persist in our goals, or let them die.
Recognize the opportunities, and choose to persist. Who knows, if you do it long enough, you may even come across as talented.