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Intersection Column | When the Story Fights Back

by Mary Alford

Right now, you’re probably thinking that’s a strange thing to say, but believe it or not, it happens quite often in the writing process. Many times, the story I end up writing isn’t anything like what I’d imagined in the beginning.

Long before I sit down at my laptop to begin a book, I let the story simmer in my head for a few days while getting to know my characters. What drives them to react to certain situations the way they do? What are their hopes and fears? Their darkest secrets? In other words, what makes them tick? Next comes fleshing out the story to reflect the message I would like the reader to take away from the book. Then it’s finding the perfect setting to bring the story to life.

When I started Among the Innocent, I had everything worked out in my head. But the story and the characters had something entirely different in mind.

For days, I’d write a chapter and think, “Okay, this is it,” only to end up deleting everything I’d written. As my frustration continued to grow, and the story just wouldn’t come together, I prayed about it.

A weight lifted almost immediately, and everything fell into place. Both the heroine and hero’s pasts, and the way they were connected to each other without even realizing it, became important parts of the story.

In Christian suspense novels, the faith element is key. Both Leah and Dalton dealt with what happened to their families in different ways, which impacted their faith tremendously. Watching his adopted brother accused of murder and believing he took his own life brought Dalton closer to God, while Leah’s experience of losing her family cast doubts on her once rock-solid faith. She blamed God for taking her family and struggled to find her way back to Him.

Yet even after the details of the story were cemented, one thing still wasn’t working. The location. I soon realized I had to change it. One place that I’d read about in the past kept popping into my mind. It was a remote and sparsely populated Amish community. The more I researched the St. Ignatius, Montana Amish, the more I realized this was the perfect location for many reasons. I loved that the Mission Mountains would be a backdrop for the story and create their own form of suspense. The sweeping vistas and peaks provided plenty of places for the killer to hide while the remoteness of the nearby Amish community made the perfect hunting grounds.

Another interesting aspect about the community as well as the town of St. Ignatius is that both are located on the Flathead Indian Reservation. Different cultures exist in close proximity to each other and live in relative harmony—a lesson in itself. The area around St. Ignatius is rich in history. One of the most interesting places I researched was the St. Ignatius Mission which was built in the late 1800s. The church’s walls and ceilings have 58 original paintings on them. When I first read about the mission, I knew I had to create a scene that would take place there. It was fun to write, but I needed a way for the killer to escape the mission undetected. Thanks to C. Hightower from the St. Ignatius Mission Organization, I found the perfect escape route.

As an author, it’s an amazingly rewarding feeling when all the pieces of a story come together, and everything works perfectly. Though the finished story may not look anything like what I’d pondered in my mind, as it turns out, it’s exactly the way it is supposed to be.


About the Author

Mary Alford is a USA Today bestselling author who loves giving her readers the unexpected, combining unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots that result in stories the reader can't put down. Her titles have been finalists for several awards, including the Daphne Du Maurier, the Beverly, the Maggie and the Selah. She and her husband live in the heart of Texas in the middle of 70 acres with two cats and one dog. Learn more at


About the Book

When Leah Miller's entire Amish family was murdered ten years ago, the person believed responsible took his own life. Since then, Leah left the Amish and joined the police force. Now, after another Amish woman is found murdered with the same MO, it becomes clear that the wrong man may have been blamed for her family's deaths.


Did You Know?

According to The Addiction Group, daughters of alcoholics also grow up believing they did something to cause their parents’ substance use disorder. This is never true, but even if a child grows into an adult who understands this, many still struggle with guilt and shame.

  • Girls who are raised by an alcoholic mother are more likely to develop mental health issues as teens and adults. These behaviors can include self-mutilation or cutting, alcoholism, drug use and risky sexual behavior.

  • Cutting is the result of a deeper issue. A search for the subject “self-harm” or “self-injury” brings up hundreds of images and videos, often glamorizing the behavior. This, along with the other destructive behaviors above manifest themselves when girls and young women cannot adequately express their negative emotions.

  • What should be our response as Christians? Recognizing destructive tendencies in girls and young women is crucial, especially in the church today. Rather than respond with revulsion or judgment, girls who come to youth groups and young adult classes need the unconditional love and acceptance that only come from Jesus.

If you suspect someone in your circle of influence struggles with destructive behavior, take time to listen and encourage her. Sometimes the open arms and ears of an adult is what she needs to begin the healing process.

-Jane S. Daly, Broken: A Story of Redemption


Why I LOVE My Local Christian Bookstore

“When I shop in a real bookstore, it's like I'm transported into another dimension. The cares of the world slip away and I become a book detective, searching for my next world to live in my imagination or research for writing my next book.”

-Angela Breidenbach, The Bucket List Dare


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