Wings like a Prayer

“This Story has Wings like a prayer” is what a reviewer said of my novel, The Swan Keeper. Reading that line made me so happy. He captured exactly what I had tried to do in the book. Years ago, I read Mary Renault’s book, The King Must Die. I loved that novel, and I especially loved the ending. I thought to myself: I want to write an ending that magnificent.

I wrote toward it in The Swan Keeper. Except in The Swan Keeper, I couldn’t exactly end the book when I got to that end. The novel wasn’t finished. Lillian, the main character, had a few more things she had to do to find justice for the swans and her family in Montana’s 1920s Mission Valley. I won’t tell you the ending of either book, but if you read them both, first The King Must Die and then The Swan Keeper, I promise you will spot where Mary Renault’s book inspired mine.

A book, a novel in my case, is made of many moments of inspiration.

They are handed to us as little gifts. We either accept them or, as Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic, they go back into the ethers for someone else to pick up and use. The Swan Keeper might have been a whole different novel if I hadn’t accepted those gifts, and if I hadn’t volunteered at the Montana Waterfowl Foundation for a brief time.

John Jarvis, the caretaker, manager, lover of the Montana Waterfowl Foundation, kindly gave me an education on trumpeter swans. I saw the young cygnets born, watched them swim around their parents, and learned of the dangers they faced. Thanks to John, I held a trumpeter swan in my lap as wildlife managers from the CSKT Trumpeter Swan Reintroduction Program drew blood from the swan and banded it. Later, I watched as The Trumpeter Swan Reintroduction Program released eleven banded fledglings into the wild. Later still, I watch the fledglings return as adults, build nests, hatch eggs, and teach the young to fly.

Holding that young trumpeter stayed with me.

While in my lap, the swan went perfectly still. The quiet moment passed, and the swan went back out onto the ponds with the others. I thought to myself, “Someone should write a novel about a girl holding a trumpeter swan in her lap.” I picked up that gift and the idea for The Swan Keeper was born. The gift of the title came when I learned that even the Queen of England had a swan keeper. What a good title, I thought to myself, The Swan Keeper. I had a title, the Mission Valley, the swans, and a girl holding a young trumpeter in her lap.

As the story developed and grew, I wrote toward that Mary Renault inspired ending, that was not quite at the end. I finished The Swan Keeper. It was beautiful and I was happy.  I’d written the best novel I could write at that time. Nothing left to do but release it to the wild and let it fly on those “wings like a prayer.”

The Swan Keeper cover

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