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Pandemic projects: Spokane Valley writer finishes book started 40 years ago

Nancy Stephens holds up her novel “Of Promises and Dreams,” which she started in 1982 and finished during the COVID-19 pandemic at her home painting studio on Friday in Spokane Valley.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Nancy Stephens holds up her novel “Of Promises and Dreams,” which she started in 1982 and finished during the COVID-19 pandemic at her home painting studio on Friday in Spokane Valley. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

After reading several short novels, Nancy Stephens thought to herself, I can do better than that. So, she picked up a pen and a pad of paper and began to write.

That was 38 years ago.

A friend typed the manuscript for her on a typewriter, and Stephens sent “Of Promises and Dreams,” to a handful of publishers.

“No one bought it, but I got some good feedback,” she recalled.

At the time, she and her husband, Warren, were raising six children in Las Vegas, and the manuscript got tucked away in a box.

While packing for their move to Spokane in 2017, Stephens came across her book.

“I got rid of a lot of things, but I couldn’t throw out my writings,” she said.

During the pandemic she began sorting through some boxes from the move and unearthed the manuscript.

“I thought if I’m not going to do anything with it, I might as well get rid of it.”

She decided to take another look at the story that had sprung from her imagination all those years ago. Having received feedback that the ending was weak, she began to revise the manuscript.

“Once I started, I was excited,” said Stephens. “I remembered how fun it was to write.”

Set in 1840s Illinois and Missouri, “Of Promises and Dreams” tells the story of Genevieve Kirkham, and her quest to keep her promise to her dying father: to find her younger sister.

Based on historical events, the book details the persecution and forced expulsions of the Mormons from Missouri and Illinois. The Kirkham family had been separated from their youngest child during their move.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Stephens is well-versed in the church’s history. In fact, the inspiration to write the book came after she’d just finished teaching a year of seminary to high school students focused on those events.

“I hope the story is accessible to nonchurch members, too,” she said.

The mother of four daughters enjoyed creating a strong female protagonist and showing all that she was capable of doing.

With the revision completed in 2020, Stephens, 81, decided to publish it herself via Gray Dog Press in Spokane, and made it available on Amazon in print or e-book versions. Her own paintings became the front and back cover art.

Revising the manuscript proved so enjoyable that Stephens is writing a sequel of sorts, continuing the story of two characters from “Of Promises and Dreams.”

“I keep thinking I’m almost finished with it, but I have to wrap up loose ends,” she said. “It’s twice as long as my first book.”

Stephens is happy to see the story she began 38 years ago in print.

“I just want people to read it. I felt like it wasn’t finished until it was published,” she said. “I feel it’s a story of someone who has the integrity to keep her promise, and if she can do hard things, so can we.”

“Of Promises and Dreams” is available on Amazon.

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Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com

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