Learning to build a fire seven years ago sparked an idea that became Jordan Rosenfeld's literary piece de resistance, a novel of a burn survivor who discovers a dark secret and the power to heal.
The 37-year-old Morgan Hill resident was in a little cabin at a writers' retreat in Mendocino, fanning the flames in a wood oven, when inspiration ignited.
“I built this fire, my first one ever, and I was mesmerized by it,” she said. “Fires are fascinating both as a literal thing and a metaphor. They're so beautiful, they're so dangerous.”
Rosenfeld calls her debut novel, Forged in Grace, one of psychological suspense, one that bends traditional literary genres because of the heroine's abilities to cure suffering and portend the future.
The story follows Grace Jensen, who survived a house fire when she was 15 years old and discovers that the accident left her not only with terrible scars, but imbued her with an emotional empathy that translates in the power to heal those around her. But it comes at a cost: She feels people's pain. Her curative touch causes her to withdraw from human contact. She lives in Northern California with her hoarder mother and cares for wounded animals. She falls in love with her doctor.
Monotony shatters when her childhood friend, Marly Kennet shows up from Las Vegas, rekindling a friendship the fire interrupted years ago. Marly knows things about the night of the fire, secrets that plagued Grace for half her life. The long-lost friend also hides the real reason she abandoned Grace – and why she came back.
“This all leads to something unexpected,” said Rosenfeld, who modeled Marly after people from her own past. “Marly's sort of an opportunist. She's a composite of friends that I had as a child … like Grace, I was always attracted to that big, bold personality.”
Young women often forge relationships with their female peers that, in many ways, act as a precursor to their romantic relationships, Rosenfeld said. Grace and Marly embody that dramatic, experimental complication. The author taps into her own experience navigating the sometimes cruel, social hierarchy of adolescent friendships.
Rosenfeld grew up in Marin County, her home life divided between parents who divorced when she was still very young. Being raised primarily by her cosmetologist mother in the notoriously upper-crust community meant being one of the have-nots. School was very much defined by who wore what brand and whose parents had what amount of money. Until she requested a transfer in high school to one in a less elitist community, Rosenfeld remembers being an outcast. Sometimes the friends she held closest were the ones who hurt her the most.
It's no surprise that because the theme of intense friendship drives Forged in Grace, the novel first read like one for young adults.
It took a grueling stretch of editing to gut it from 376 pages to less than 200, followed by another re-write.
“This does represent my best work so far,” Rosenfeld said of her final work, bound now in a glossy softcover emblazoned with an image of Grace, eyes closed, engulfed in flames. “It feels incredible.”
But it's far from her first. The North Bay transplant wrote her first novel, unpublished, at 19. In college studying liberal arts, she first realized writing could be a viable profession. The discussions and writing assignments allowed her ideas to flourish. Since she was a child she considered herself a writer – she already had volumes of journals – but now she could pursue it as a profession.
Freelance writing and journalism paid the bills and got her established in the world of publishing. Dogged persistence landed her essays and articles in the St. Petersburg Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Writer, Writer's Digest, Publisher's Weekly and AlterNet.org. After earning her MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, she went on to work as an editor at Writer's Digest, which published her first book, Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time. Another author, Rebecca Lawton, teamed up with her to pen Write Free! Attracting the Creative Life soon after.
Today, she makes a living as a writing coach, editor and writer, working from a bright blue studio in her home, where she lives with her 5-year-old son and her psychologist husband.
Forged in Grace, however, is the culmination of years of creative writing, not just the words she poured into this novel.
“Having been a reader for all my life, I both knew more than I thought and was overwhelmed by the immensity of the task ahead of me,” she said. “The best way to learn how to write a novel is to read a novel. Then you write-a lot. You're going to make the mistakes, but you also have to realize there is no wasted word. Anything you do toward a finished product is worth it.”
An assignment she once had as a freelance journalist assigned her to write about an artist. The painter told Rosenfeld something she needed, another epiphany: “For every finished painting I make, I paint miles and miles of canvas.”
That's true of writing, said Rosenfeld, who said that thought made her realize the value of all those unpublished words, even the ones tucked away in her childhood journals.
“No work is ever for nothing,” she said. “In fact, they say a published work is just when I writer decides to put it down. Otherwise they could go forever, revision after revision. Eventually it's time to put it out there.”
Now it's Rosenfeld's turn, and she's not about to launch her landmark work through the corporate publishing house powers-that-be.
Traditional publishers agonize about categories – whether to pigeonhole a work as magical realism, fantasy or the like. Rosenfeld's book fits a little bit of all, or none of those mass-marketable definitions.
The book's launch is also in part a promotion for the independent publishing platform Rosenfeld helped start. IndieVisible is a global collective of writers who pool their own resources to publish, sidestepping Big Publishing with its tidy taxonomies and emphasis on bottom-line-boosting marketability.
With the advent of social media and the rise of work-from-home opportunities, independent publishing has become a legitimate way to share quality literature. Rosenfeld's book is more than a personal achievement- it's part of a global movement in independent publishing.
Rosenfeld celebrates her book launch this Saturday at BookSmart of Morgan Hill with wine, a raffle and dramatic readings. Anyone is welcome to attend.
“Writing this was monumental,” said Rosenfeld. “The publishing of it feels like the end of a life-changing process. It changed me as a writer; it turned me into a deeper writer. I can't wait to actually put my work into the hands of other people.”