Like many people, first-time novelist Darlene West is acquainted with grief and depression.
Earlier in her life, she volunteered at mental hospitals to lead Bible studies. The people she met there were often grieving or depressed. Those experiences helped her write her new novel, “Awakened by Grace,” that explores themes of chronic grief and faith.
“Writing has always been in my heart,” West said. She currently lives in Sandpoint, Idaho and released “Awakened by Grace” in March of 2020.
The novel follows English professor Franklin Franklyn who loses his wife in a car accident. “He blames himself; he pushes everybody away … for more than two years,” West said.
Following the two-year anniversary of his wife’s death, his granddaughter Maggie re-enters his life. She helps him start socializing again and leads him to a belief in Christianity.
Franklyn deals with chronic grief throughout the novel. West’s own experiences inspired this aspect of the book.
Many of the people in mental hospitals where she volunteered “believe they can’t make anything of themselves in life.”
In her personal life, West also lost a son to sudden infant death syndrome and experienced the death of her best friend.
“It’s something everybody has to go through with somebody in the family. I mean, death is part of life,” West said.
Along with processing death, faith is the secondary theme of the novel. Franklyn grew up religious, but something happened to his grandmother, so he became angry with God. While he learns to move on from his wife’s death, he also finds faith.
“Maggie’s faith-filled prayers are made manifest in front of his eyes,” West said. “He doesn’t believe it at first, and then he starts questioning it, (that) maybe it is true.”
However, his development into a religious person isn’t the book’s climax. “The climax of the novel is whether or not he can move forward without his wife,” West said.
West typically writes with a Christian audience in mind. But her main goal was to write something accessible to a general audience. The themes of grief are universal regardless of one’s faith or lack thereof.
“(An) atheist recommended (the book) highly after they read it because it’s helped people that aren’t Christians,” she said. “I’ve even had people tell me it helped them … (with) things they’re going through.”
Comfort is something West hopes that other readers can find through “Awakened by Grace.” Some writers educate through non-fiction.
However, for West, her “best go-to tool for teaching is storytelling because if I can get you to remember my story, I can get you to remember my point.”
That’s a reason she wrote “Awakened by Grace” — to give a fictional example of how someone can find their way through grief.
“I’m hoping (readers) can take away that there’s hope in the world and that hope is with Jesus Christ,” West said. “Just because today is bad, tomorrow’s another day and there’s always another way.”
Although Franklyn begins the novel as an atheist, he’s surrounded by religious family members. He still loves them despite their differences.
“I want people to take away how important it is to be family. Family is so important. Politics should never separate you,” West said. “Without family, you’ve got nothing.”
West’s own family has been a big source of support in the process of writing “Awakened by Grace.” Her husband particularly helped in the development of the novel.
“My husband is my best support,” she said. “I would print the chapter, and we would read it and go over it. Then I would start seeing things I need to add into it or take away.”
West plans to publish more fiction. “I want to stick with literary fiction because I want to write stories that mean something to people,” she said. “My whole concept is to help people.”
West’s novel “Awakened by Grace” can be purchased on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It’s available in hard-copy, e-book and audiobook formats.