An aspiring novelist is likely to listen to sage advice from the author of 17 bestsellers. As such, when Sharon Allen Gilder asked the late Tom Clancy about dealing with procrastination and writer’s block, he told her, “Just write the damn book.”
Gilder did just that, and it was about time. For about two decades, she had saved a scrap of paper on which she had scribbled some thoughts. With Clancy’s kick-start and just a few alterations, those words evolved into the first page of “The Rose Beyond,” the historical romance she published with Amazon’s CreateSpace in 2014. From start to finish, the process of researching, writing and editing the book took 14 years.
Historical romance has delighted Gilder since she read Kathleen Woodiwiss’ “Ashes in the Wind” at age 22. She believes that the genre keeps “the words and telling of the past from fading” and makes “a connection to the past through the characters — to imagine the voices that came before me and let them be heard.”
“The Rose Beyond” focuses on a privileged family, whose lives are disrupted by a letter that reveals long-buried secrets that challenge their relationships. Gilder chose the Washington, D.C., setting because she is an area native, and the year 1897 because she is drawn to the era, both personally and in her book. Her Gaithersburg home’s décor features two Victorian pieces of furniture, and she likes the romantic flow of the period’s apparel. Gilder claims that “anyone who knows me knows I go through tea lights like a maniac.” Similarly, electric lighting is out of the question for Gilder’s characters; instead, candles or gas provide their light.
A Historical Novel Society review described her writing as florid, Gilder said, explaining that “the more formal way of speech” she opts for “keeps wonderful words — like portal, manse and parlor — in the language.”
The title came from A.L. Fink’s poem, “The Rose Still Grows Beyond the Wall,” which Gilder heard a minister read at a funeral. “The poem spoke to me because there is love, loss, mystery and beautiful gardens in ‘The Rose Beyond,” and the poem made me feel more hopeful about the mystery of life after death,” she said. “I thought the message was a good tie-in to my storyline.”
In the novel, a character dies in childbirth, and her friend says, “We know it does not end at the grave.” According to Gilder, “[that] is essentially the message in the poem. … There’s also a double meaning in [the] statement because the book is about inevitability ... ultimately, the truth will be told.”
Gilder, who graduated from Wheaton High School and studied home economics education at the University of Maryland, taught child development and gourmet foods at Woodward High School for eight years, and then worked as a teacher and administrator at a private preschool for more than 30.
Her propensity for writing stems from early childhood when she produced bound books she still has “somewhere,” often with an “adventurous Pippi Longstocking-type” heroine. Later, as an educator, Gilder wrote food, child development and sexual assault curricula for the Montgomery County Public Schools. A freelance journalist since late 2006, she has written for local media including The Gazette, the Potomac Almanac and The Town Courier. Her subject matter varies, but occasionally features the Brem Foundation to Defeat Breast Cancer and Friends of Montgomery Animals, organizations on whose boards she sits.
Gilder writes at her dining room table, without an outline, often out of order; she allows the characters to “take me to places I didn’t know I was going.” She is not sure writing is the solitary pursuit it is “often characterized as … Although I might be alone in a room with my fingers on the keyboard waiting for the next words to flow upon my computer’s screen, the confluence of people, places and events from my past keep me in wonderful company.”
A sequel to “The Rose Beyond” is on that table now. Gilder is pleased that there is no need for Clancy’s kick-start this time. “It is moving faster than my debut novel, and hopefully won’t take 14 years to complete!”