Walking through a barren landscape with nothing and no one in sight, Daphne Stroh began to grow weary.
Relief finally came in the form of a large purple boulder, which, when she climbed on top of it, had the comfortable feel of a memory foam mattress. And just as she laid down to sleep…
She woke up.
Experiencing this dream profoundly impacted Stroh, but even though the then-high school student wrote herself a note about the purple boulders that had popped into her head during unconsciousness, she didn’t think at the time that it would come to mean anything.
But, as she went on to college, she returned to the idea and began writing.
The result was the writer’s first published work, “Life’s Other Realm,” a fantasy/adventure novel about a 17-year-old girl named Kim who is accidentally transported to the world of Keolia, a land that has more of a history in her life than she knows.
Stroh, 26, said the book takes after the classic fantasy hero’s quest plot with a little romance thrown in, as well as Christian undertones, likening the method in conveying religious themes and values to works like “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
“It’s not really in your face, but it’s there,” she said. “You can line anything up with Christianity, but you’ve got to do it in a way that people aren’t going to be turned off by it. Someone might read it and, depending where they are in their life, it could bring them into Christianity.”
Despite sharing a style with scribes like “Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien and “Narnia” writer C.S. Lewis, Stroh said she is not a fan of the fantasy genre in general.
A fervent reader of mysteries, particularly those of Sue Grafton, Stroh said she decided to write a fantasy story because of the dream she had in her final days of high school. The purple boulders became “cush” — as in “cushion” — and although these imaginary objects inspired the book, they have little to do with the story.
“They’re in about the middle in the book, and they’re not really important, but I had to find a place for them somewhere,” Stroh said.
Details for the rest of the story came in fits and bursts as Stroh worked on forming a narrative throughout her college years at the University of Northern Colorado. She said she thought of different points of the story at different times, first coming up with a prologue, eventually tying them all together.
“I would write down a lot of ideas without even knowing where I was going with them,” she said. “It’s like how J.K. Rowling came up with Harry Potter while she was on a train. It was just a great idea that came out of nowhere.”
Stroh said creating elaborate and intriguing details was one of her main goals, especially in describing the land through which her characters travel. She said the heroine, Kim, is mostly based on her own personality.
“A lot of the stuff she does and the way she acts are how I am,” she said.
She added that the character’s name was a departure from her usual preferences.
“In the short stories I used to write, I would come up with names that were much fancier, but one of friends suggested ‘Kim’ and I thought it sounded short and simple,” she said.
Klee, a blue-skinned native of the fantasy world of Keolia, joins Kim on her journey.
“I knew she would need a traveling companion and I wanted him to be male. That’s where the romance comes in,” she said. “He has a lot of qualities that I admire, like he’s strong but sensitive, but he can also be really pig-headed and he has to have things just his way and Kim has to correct him.”
Stroh completed “Life’s Other Realm” in October 2007, although going back and editing the story was a process she tired of by December.
Graduating from UNC the same year with a bachelor’s degree in special education, she focused on her teaching career before considering publication. She was in the middle of her first year working at Moffat County High School when she sought out potential publishers in March 2009.
“I didn’t even know where to start, so I just Googled publishing companies,” she said.
Her search yielded Tate Publishing and Enterprises, and after submitting her book to the company, she received a large envelope back full of paperwork and a letter that began “Congratulations.”
“I don’t usually remember dates, but I remember that was June 29,” she said. “I was out on my front lawn talking with my landlord and a UPS driver handed me an envelope that said ‘Tate’ on it.”
Stroh remembered having to be calmed down by her landlord as she reacted to the news. She said the publishing deal was not without its own downsides, such as having to pay $3,000 for the venture, but she said with her contract, Tate contributed about $20,000 and provided her with many helpful rewrite suggestions, potential cover art and other elements she had not considered. She is still getting emails from the company about promotional ideas.
“I get about $10.80 for every book that’s sold, and that’s more than half,” she said. “I have to wait to hear back to see how the book did in quarterly sales, but once I reach a certain point, I get back the $3,000 I put into it, so it’s like an investment.”
The book hit stores June 15, but Stroh received earlier copies and distributed them to members of her place of worship, Craig Christian Church. She also has read aloud sections of the story to her students.
She said the response from both fellow church members and students has been very positive, but one question she hears still puzzles her.
“A lot of people have asked me about a sequel,” she said. “I left the ending open enough that there could be a sequel, but I thought the story was pretty complete.”
For a second project, Stroh said she wanted to write a piece of historical fiction, set in the antebellum period immediately preceding the American Civil War. The book would focus on the Underground Railroad, requiring a great deal of research for the authenticity she wants.
“The bad thing about writing historical fiction is that I can’t just make things up,” she said.
Stroh said that for now she wants to balance everyday life and writing, which she has done in one form or another since kindergarten. She said her mother, to whom “Life’s Other Realm” is dedicated, nurtured her talent for writing early in life, giving her a notebook for short stories at age 7 and always providing feedback.
“She taught me so much without even realizing it,” she said.
Besides her regular job teaching at MCHS, for which she is attaining her master’s degree through Ashford University’s online program, Stroh also teaches vacation Bible school and enjoys baking and any kind of outdoor activity.
“I just love being outside, hiking or walking, just being physically and spiritually fit,” she said.
But chief among her hobbies are reading and writing. She encouraged aspiring writers to never stop their craft.
“If you like to like to write, just write even if nobody else likes it,” she said. “Practice makes perfect, even though there is no perfect.”