Tuesday (July 29) was a big day for Chester Gap author and high school English teacher Sheila Lamb, as her first novel, “Once a Goddess,” was officially published.
The first in a proposed trilogy — Lamb said the second book, “Fiery Arrow,” has already been picked up for publication — “Once a Goddess” is historical fantasy, a word Lamb makes sure to stress. “I don’t want people to say, ‘Well so-and-so didn’t do this.’ Well no,” she laughed, “because I made this person up.”
Long fascinated by history and mythology, Lamb became especially interested in Brigid of Ireland, also known as St. Brigid in the Catholic faith. Brigid is one of the three patron saints of Ireland, along with saints Columba and Patrick, the latter of whom Brigid deals with throughout book two.
“She has to deal with St. Patrick and they have a little conflict,” Lamb said.
Each book in the trilogy is based on a different aspect of Brigid’s “faces,” Lamb explained. Known as a goddess, druid and saint, Lamb said her version of Brigid will also encounter some paranormal elements, as figures in Irish Tuatha de Danann legends were known for their shapeshifting abilities. In the book, Brigid enters into an arranged marriage with the enemy tribe in order to save her people from destruction.
(“Fiery Arrow,” Lamb explained, is a translation from Brigid’s name in Gaelic, and focuses on her Druid aspects, much as “Once a Goddess” focuses on her more divine qualities.)
“Once a Goddess” represents the end result of more than a decade of work and research, Lamb said, which first began in 2003 as part of a potential grad school project. “I tend to get sidetracked by the research process. Spending hours in a library is just as fun as making up the rest of the story,” Lamb explained.
“I’ve always written off and on,” Lamb said, “but I wasn’t really dedicated to writing every day. I’d put [the manuscript] away for long periods of time.”
Lamb said she’s trying to wrap up the third book before Rappahannock schools resume on Aug. 13, when she’ll go back to her day job of teaching “mostly dual-enrollment” English courses at Rappahannock County High School. That leaves her just under two weeks to finish.
“I moved up [to Rappahannock] last summer, though I’d been a weekender for a year or two before that,” Lamb explained. “I’m also going into my second year at RCHS; I’d previously taught in Prince William County, Fairfax and Arizona; I moved around a lot.”
The road to publication was a long one, Lamb explained. “I had several positive rejections [from publishers before Solstice]. They kept telling me it was very interesting and really good, but they couldn’t sell it for X, Y, Z reasons.”
Though it’s now distributed by Solstice Shadows, an imprint of publisher Solstice Publishing, “Once a Goddess” was briefly self-published “before I took it out of print,” Lamb said.
“That’s why there are two editions on Amazon. I just wasn’t very comfortable with that whole aspect and am very happy to have found a small press publisher. I think self-publishing works for a lot of people, especially those who have the time and inclination for the sales and marketing pieces. It’s not something I would rule out in the future with the publishing industry changing at it is,” she continued.
“But I felt I wanted to give the trilogy one more chance with a publisher, and let those folks be in charge of dealing with the booksellers, as well as the formatting and actually putting the book together — that process was definitely not in my talent field.”
Lamb didn’t set out to write a trilogy, she said; instead, it was just a natural outgrowth of her research. There also wasn’t a specific moment when she decided to turn her grad school project into a published work.
“I worked really hard on this,” Lamb said, “and it literally grew. I kept thinking, ‘This has a chance.’ And once I showed it to several critique groups, they believed in the story and I really believed in that positive feedback.”
Lamb said she’s in talks with the Rappahannock Association for the Arts and the Community (RAAC) about a possible “Second Friday” presentation of “Once a Goddess,” but has no plans for a book release party — yet.
“My goal right now is to finish the third book,” she laughed. “Then maybe we’ll plan a little more for the second one. That’s a really good idea!”
Copies of “Once a Goddess” are available online (in both print and digital format) at Barnes and Noble, Amazon and Solstice Publishing, and will soon be available locally at Merry Moo Market in Flint Hill and the Little Washington Winery.