Author Mark Appenzellar tells story to reach those with no hope

September 08, 2011|By CHRIS COPLEY |
  • Mark Appenzellar has written "The Year of Losing Things."
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Mark Appenzellar wants to offer solutions to people who see no hope in life. So he wrote a book, "The Year of Losing Things," to tell the story on a young woman struggling to find things of value in herself.

The book has an inspirational message, but Appenzellar, a worship leader at his Smithsburg church, tried to avoid writing a stereotypical Christian novel.

"A lot of Christian fiction is preachy," he said. "I do present a Christian message, but I don't ram it home."

Another of Appenzellar's pet peeves: oversimplified storytelling. A good story has complex characters facing difficult challenges, and the story's outcome is not a certainty.

"I don't like pat endings where everything is tied together neatly," he said. "A lot of Christian fiction is so heavily geared to the message it wants to present, it doesn't develop characters and situations."

Appenzellar's characters and story line are not simplistic. The emotional life of his protagonist, Ashling Campbell, is turbulent. The book opens with Ashling losing her job in Wheeling, W.Va., where she lives. Shortly after that, her best friend's baby dies back home in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and Ashling visits her alcoholic father. Life seems impossible, and she considers suicide. Things begin to look up when Ashling finds herself at a grimy mission in downtown Wheeling.

Appenzellar, 46, grew up in Hagerstown and works as project manager at First Data. He married his wife, Alison, in 2005 and has two step-children, Emily Gibson and Jordan Gibson.

When he was 8, Appenzellar wanted to be a writer. He wrote short stories, and, when he was 13, he and a  friend co-wrote a story published by the Antietam Review, a Hagerstown-based literary magazine.

Then Appenzellar got involved in music, learned to play keyboards, guitar and bass, and pursued music. Now, he is happy to be writing again.

He said he wanted to set his book in the local area to make the story more compelling.

"Knowing what the streets of Shepherdstown look like, I can breathe more life into the story," he said. "The reader can grow into the character — see what she's seeing, what she's thinking."

He said the concept for the book had rattled around in his head for years before he started writing. The protagonist was much like himself when he was younger — someone struggling to find purpose.

"Ashling is a composite of me and some of my friends," he said. "I'm like Ashling — the insecurity, getting out of school and not having any idea of what to do with my life."

Appenzellar said Ashling, like most people, she sees what she she wants to see. She tends to focus on the bad things in her life and ignore people and situations that offer hope.

"That mixture of the good things and the insurmountable things in her life is important," he said. "I wanted Ashling to be deeply flawed, so I could show a transformation in her life."

Part of that transformation is forgiveness, an important Christian tenet, but also applicable to people who aren't religious. That's who "The Year of Losing Things" is for, Appenzellar said: Readers who like a story of personal growth.

"Really, I want this to be an encouragement to all readers to release themselves," he said. "This is a fundamental aspect of the Christian message. But even if you're not Christian, you see that you can release yourself from negativity and make it a catalyst so you can grow."

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