Forlorn Hope

If you’re a writer, you have it. Forlorn Hope.

I first learned of this term from Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe books. The Forlorn Hope was a soldier or group of soldiers who volunteered to lead a military expedition that would most certainly result in their deaths. If they survived, however, they would be promoted to officers, so the payoff was huge.

Turns out “hope” is not really a correct translation. The original Dutch word “hoop” refers to a grouping of people, so the true meaning of the term is something like “Lost Troop.”

However, I love the mis-translation. It feels more true to me. Hope is often forlorn, especially in battle. And in book publishing. And life in general.

Forlorn is, to me, the most beautiful word for sadness. There is a certain majesty about it, a Shakespearean pathos. It came to be the title of my novel quite by accident, as do most things that happen in my novels. I’m not a planner, I don’t do outlines. I start writing with virtually no idea of what’s going to happen. I like being surprised.

But that term, Forlorn Hope, stuck with me throughout the writing of Forlorn. Because even if hope is forlorn, it’s still hope. All is not lost. God can insert himself into even the most impossible of situations. He certainly did that with this novel. I had pretty much given up hope of publication when my agent Julie Gwinn called to tell me that Dawn Carrington of Vinspire Publishing was interested in acquiring both Forlorn and the sequel, Forsaken. Over a year had passed. Nearly every publisher had passed as well.

A year later, Forlorn came out. There is no guarantee that anyone will buy the book or read it or like it. (Like most writers, I sleep with one star reviews dancing in my head.) But just the fact that it exists is a miracle in itself.

Really, all the best stories end this way. When hope is lost, God intervenes. A miracle occurs. We Christian writers are often accused of overusing the “Deus ex Machina” or “God in the Machine”—a plot device where the hero is delivered from an impossible situation by supernatural intervention. Shakespeare was a master of the Deus ex Machina. Stephen King used it all the time and no one ever gave him a hard time about it.

But isn’t that what we believe anyway? God is all about impossible situations. Just ask Abraham. Or Joseph. Or David. Or me.

Hope may be forlorn, but it is never truly lost.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 
 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
2 Corinthians 4: 8-9




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