“North Kentlands” resident Sharon Allen Gilder wrote the first page of her debut novel, “The Rose Beyond,” many years ago. She carried that page with her in her wallet as inspiration, talisman and dream. And for 14 years, her story grew through historical research, meaningful friendships and support from those closest to her, as well as advice from other writers.
She credits author Tom Clancy with giving her the push she needed to finish the book. “On several social occasions I had the pleasure of talking with the author Tom Clancy. At one event, I mentioned being in a lull with my writing and I asked his advice. He said, ‘Just write the damn book.’ His simple, yet direct words were all I needed to re-jumpstart my creative juices—his statement prompted me to complete ‘The Rose Beyond.’”
A historical romance set in 1897, “The Rose Beyond” is about a wealthy Washington, D.C., family with ties to England and Wales. When a letter from a woman in England, who is on her deathbed, arrives, the long-buried secret it contains sets into motion a series of events that test characters’ relationships and the very bonds of love.
When Gilder speaks about her writing journey, it seems one of fascination and inevitability. Many facets of her life conspired to bring about the birth of this story.
Gilder has always been drawn to the Victorian era, especially its candlelight. “Any one of my friends can tell you, I love candlelight,” she said. “Even though in 1897 they had introduced electricity, I am not mentioning it in my book. I still have candlelight and gas lanterns.”
Washington is home for Gilder, who attended Wheaton High School and the University of Maryland.
Gilder worked with Sylvia Kerr Koren, a native of Wales who shared her knowledge of Nantymoel, resulting in her book’s rich and accurate depictions of the turn-of-the-century, coal-mining village in Wales.
Gilder and her husband are friends with Gary Ulmer, who shared his floor-to-ceiling collection of vintage books on Washington, D.C., with her. Gilder also put in one-and-a-half to two years of intense historical research at the Rockville Library, winding through microfilmed issues of The Washington Star.
And finally, her characters took on lives of their own. “Emma is a confidante, a wise person and listener who is good at giving advice,” she said. “Oprah would appreciate her kindness and wisdom. … Alexandra is a piece of work. … She feels entitled to be above everyone else.”
Gilder said, “Even though I love to write, it’s a lot of work. And just having the initial concept and then to see where it goes … even if it’s broadly outlined in my mind, it takes on its own speed or direction depending on what the characters decide to do. Even though I’m their guide, they kind of guide me.”
The book arose out of a “curiosity about things and how would someone feel if this happened in their life?” “The Rose Beyond” concerns issues of adoption and the mystery of death, and its title honors A.L. Fink’s poem, “The Rose Still Grows Beyond the Wall.”
An accomplished journalist, marketing professional and longtime educator who taught at Woodward High School in Rockville, Gilder did not need to use an outline in writing her book. “I guess I’m too right-brained,” she joked.
But she was meticulous about giving her story the richness that can only be wrought through detail. When Simon Peabody, the master gardener at Emma’s home, spreads oyster shells on garden walkways, Gilder was careful to capture the nuance of the experience of walking there. “They (oyster shells) make a sound like shards of glass,” she observed.
Her characters’ language, including speaking patterns and expressions, is as authentic as possible. Welsh words like “famblies” and expressions like “the cat’s whiskers” abound, thanks to Gilder’s colleague Koren. Words in the Welsh language, Cymraeg, are printed with their English translation.
Gilder also embraced whimsy. Instead of the usual dog or cat, Gilder gave her story a pet parakeet, Peepers. He speaks and “is involved in the discovery of the truth,” she said.
When “The Rose Beyond” was finished, Gilder was surprised by how she felt. “There was a silence within myself,” she recalled, “a calm feeling but unusual … after all those years.”
That’s when another journey started, that of publication and marketing.
Gilder considered the traditional publication route and even queried some agents, but she knew that this could take years. Even once an agent gets the manuscript accepted by a publishing house, it can be three to four years before it appears in print.
Gilder didn’t want to wait that long. Backed by her strong editing and marketing skills—and lots of advice and help from her husband, Mark, and friends—she published with Amazon’s CreateSpace. The whole process took only three months.
On June 13, the 444-page book went “live” on Amazon. Friends had already ordered and received their printed copies by the time Gilder got her shipment on June 20, in preparation for a June 27 book signing at Pinky & Pepe’s Grape Escape. “The Rose Beyond” is also available on Kindle eBook.
“I hope the book will be well received,” she said. “I’m nervous and excited in the same breath.”
And that first page written so many years ago? “It was altered slightly only,” Gilder said. You can see why it captured her so:
“Arielle raced ahead as though her very existence depended upon it. As she fled, she tried as she might to have her feet keep pace with the thoughts rallying round and round in her head. Hateful words and epithets railed against her father spun in her head, becoming magnified by her outrage. How could I have been so shortsighted? Why did I not see through his mask of deceit, his armour of intent, so smoothly soldered and firmly welded with years of manipulation and misdeed?”
“These characters are your companions,” Gilder emphasized. She is already working on a sequel.
For more information on “The Rose Beyond,” visit www.sharonallengilder.com.