Writing a Novel About the True-Life Loss of a Child

Filed in Book Writing Inspiration by on May 8, 2019 • views: 549

by Crissi Langwell

The Road to Hope came to me when I was grocery shopping. No joke!

I was at Trader Joe’s in the produce section when I saw a toddler fall from a shopping cart. He had been in the large part of the empty basket, and his weight tipped the cart. His mom was on him within seconds of him falling, and the kid was screaming in the middle of the store.

My first reaction was empathy for the mom, knowing that she probably felt the weight of judgment from everyone around her for even allowing her kid in the basket in the first place. But as she consoled her screaming child, a story started washing over me.

I began asking myself questions—what if a child fell and was hurt worse than a bump on the head? What if it ended up a fatal mistake? What would that mother’s identity be if her only child died?

This Book Was My Opportunity to Write About the Loss of a Child

But here’s why these questions and the developing story meant so much to me.

Years before, I’d experienced a stillbirth. I was 24 years old and already had two toddler children. At 32 weeks along in my pregnancy, we discovered the baby’s heartbeat had stopped.

This was something I never imagined was even possible. I mean, I had heard about it happening to other parents, but those stories seemed so far away from me.

When it happened to us, it changed everything I knew about life. I went into a deep, dark depression and had a hard time caring for my living children, or even myself. My once clean house became a pit. The demise of my marriage accelerated (we were already having problems), and we divorced soon after.

The Road to Hope was my opportunity to write about this loss and its effects on my life, channeling my grief through Jill, one of the main characters. Then I introduced another character, a teen mom named Maddie, who allowed me to write about other experiences in my life—poverty and being a young mother, and in later books, domestic violence and identity issues.

So, The Road to Hope started as a story, but it became so much bigger than that. I can honestly say I poured my soul into this book, and into the whole series.

I Had to Embrace the Fact That This Was Me Telling Truth in Fiction

I think the biggest issue I faced was feeling conflicted about putting so much of myself into the story.

When I started writing, I really tried to make the characters completely different from myself. But it felt untrue. Writing this book was like therapy to me, and when I tried to change things too much, it felt inauthentic.

I had to embrace the fact that this was me telling truth in fiction, and that was okay.

I also grappled with how certain people would react to what I had written, especially as the series continued. There are some things that are very pointed, and if certain people read it, they will recognize some details. I had to somewhat distance myself from the story, in a way, to have the courage to write and not edit out certain scenes.

Third, this book overruled my initial ideas for the story. It was really supposed to be a book about Jill and the loss of her son. But then I introduced this new character about a third of the way in. Maddie was only supposed to exist for about a chapter, but dang it if I didn’t fall in love with her.

Writing about Maddie helped me to embrace the young, dumb teen I’d once been. I loved this character so much, I dedicated the rest of the series to her.

I Wrote the Story, then Shelved It for Several Years Because of Self-Doubt

Beyond the struggles I mentioned earlier, I really struggled with self-doubt. I wrote this story, and then I shelved it for several years.

The idea of editing it felt daunting, because I knew I had a lot to fix. This was really the second book I ever wrote—the first one I hid away and never touched again, it was that bad! I had put so much of myself into this story, I worried that I hadn’t really done it justice.

It took writing and publishing a few more books before I could return to this story and clean it up. I’m actually glad I waited. Through the years, I learned much more about writing and storytelling, and I was able to incorporate these lessons into The Road to Hope, making it a much stronger story.

I Wrote That Scene Through Blurry Eyes

There was this one time I attended a write-in—an event with a bunch of writers in our local bookstore where we all worked on our writing projects at the same time.

I got into this zone and was faced with a very emotional scene. Right there in the middle of everyone, I started to cry. I think I hid it well enough, but the tears just wouldn’t stop. I wrote that scene through blurry eyes and a sob in my throat.

This was the moment I knew I had something, that I wasn’t holding back anything in the story.

How Writing Can Give You Grace for the Person You Were

This book was so much to me. Writing The Road to Hope allowed me to work through some really hard emotions, things I’d held on to for years. It gave me grace for the person I was, even love that earlier version of myself, because I was able to see it from a bigger point of view.

It also helped me reach an even deeper level in emotional writing, something I really strive for in all my novels. If I’m not moved while I’m writing it, then I need to discover where I’m holding back.

When I’m Struggling with Something, Writing Will Help Unveil the Solution

Writing is absolutely a spiritual practice for me.

My faith and spirituality are huge in my life, and writing is the way I express that.

Often when I’m struggling with something, my writing will help me unveil the solution. I often will discover new things about myself through my characters, and I find peace and meaning when I’m writing.

The Message in My Book: Nothing is Permanent

The underlying message in The Road to Hope is that nothing is permanent.

This includes the people we love and a comfortable life, because anything can change in an instant.

But this also applies to those dark feelings of loss, the shame of a situation, or an identity we feel stuck in. Realities can evolve with time, and healing happens when we allow those around us to help see us through.

Advice for a Young Writer: If You Have an Idea for a Story, Write It

If you have an idea for a story, write it. Don’t let anything stand in your way!

Don’t worry about what other people will think, if you’re a good enough writer, or if the story will sell. You can worry about these things later when you start editing. If you worry about them while you’re writing, the story won’t happen.

So let go of self-doubt and preconceived ideas on other people’s judgment, and pour yourself into the story. Your novel deserves every single part of you, so don’t give it any less than 100%.

* * *

Crissi Langwell is the author of 10 books across several genres. Her passion is the story of the underdog, and her novels include stories of homeless teens, determined heroines, family issues, free spirits and more. She writes literary fiction, magical realism, women’s fiction, and young adult, and is currently writing a dystopian romance.

Beyond writing, Crissi is an avid bookworm and a weight training wannabe. She pulls her inspiration from the ocean, and breathes freely among redwoods. She lives in Northern California with her husband and their blended family of three kids.

For more information on Crissi and her book, see her website, or connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.


The Road to Hope: Jill Johnson and Maddie Russo are two mothers who experience the earth-shattering impact of separate tragedies.

Both 35-year-old Jill and 16-year-old Maddie fall victim to their personal circumstance, succumbing to a life neither of them plans for herself. But a brief encounter between the two of them forces the path of their lives to change course, offering light to their despair, and setting a journey where hope leads the way.

In The Road to Hope, Crissi Langwell paints a portrait of grief and affliction, opening the wounds of life’s calamities. But with a glimpse of a possible new direction, Langwell reveals the emergence of strength, and the beauty that exists when hope prevails.

Available at Amazon.

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