Local novelist finds inspiration in ink

Writing the “The Ink of Elspet” has been a kind of therapy for Federal Way pastor JD Peabody

Putting stories to ink has been more than a creative exercise for the pastor of Federal Way’s New Day Church — it’s also been a chance to find himself.

JD Peabody is the Federal Way author of “The Ink of Elspet,” the first book in his kid’s fantasy adventure series “The Inkwell Chronicles.”

It’s the story of a brother and sister who try to find their dad after he goes missing in a disastrous train crash. Along the way, the kids encounter a magical ink that leads them to a group of mysterious guardians of the primordial forces of creativity.

“I was looking to write something that, when I was 10, I would have wanted to read,” Peabody said.

The books also weave in references to literature and history, including the historical 1952 Harrow and Wealdstone rail crash near London which serves as a real-world anchor for events in the book.

Peabody grew up in Lacey and moved to Federal Way in 1991, where he lives now with his wife. They have three children.

In the fourth grade, Peabody’s parents bought him a copy of “Prince Caspian,” launching him into a love for the “Narnia” series even though he started it out of order. His interest in that series inspired what would eventually become The Inkwell Chronicles.

In his current day job, Peabody is a pastor at New Day Church, which meets at the Dumas Bay Centre. Before getting into fiction writing, Peabody’s career was in advertising, where he wrote a lot of “thirty-second copy.”

But “I never really was sure I could write a book,” Peabody said. “I could write the short thing, but I didn’t know I had it in me to write a whole arc that big.”

It was a crisis point that showed him the path to writing — and healing. About 10 years into his role as a pastor, Peabody hit an emotional and mental wall.

“I felt like my brain just broke, and I was bombarded by all kinds of intrusive thoughts,” Peabody said. “It scared me, because I couldn’t get away from my brain … and I didn’t have a label for it.”

Soon, he got one: Peabody was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a condition that affects around 2.3% of the world population with intrusive thoughts and compulsive routines.

“A big block for me is the concept of perfection,” he said, “and wanting (writing) to come out fully formed.”

As he started to put the pieces together, writing became a form of therapy to address some of his underlying anxieties.

“I was uncovering some stuff about myself that had deep roots, and going ‘Who am I?’ and getting in touch with what I felt about things,” Peabody said. “… I felt, at first, like I had to eradicate the anxiety. Instead (I learned) … I need to lose my fear of it, instead. It can be there, but it doesn’t have to be in the driver’s seat.”

Peabody started with a screenplay, which gave him the confidence to write out at least what he knew had to happen in the first “Inkwell” book. From there, it was just about seeing where the characters ended up and what they wanted, and extrapolating the story from there.

From each chapter, he could see “a tiny bit” further down the path of the story, Peabody said, enough to keep the tale going.

“The discipline of just getting up and sitting there, every day, chipping away regularly, helped me,” Peabody said. “I didn’t have to wait for the inspiration, or until an idea was fully formed … (I’d) get the words out, and then go back and edit.”

His OCD also manifests as an impulse to explain — something his literary agents helped him with as he shaped his story.

“My first agent (said) … you’ve got to resist the urge to explain,” Peabody said. “You need to trust your reader that you don’t need to spell it all out. It doesn’t make for a good story (if you) tell everything.”

Through that process of therapeutic writing, Peabody also wrote “Perfectly Suited: The Armor of God for the Anxious Mind,” a story about his experience with mental health and his faith.

Peabody finished the first draft of “The Ink of Elspet” in 2015, meaning it took about 7 years to publish the story. The sequel won’t take as long: “Race to Krakatoa” should come out this fall, Peabody said.

That second book ends on a cliffhanger, and while he’s still working with his publisher, Peabody said he’d like to at least publish three books in the series.

Peabody isn’t the only creative in his family. His son Isaac, who performs under the name PEABOD, released the song “Better Than Nostalgia” in May, a song that name-drops Federal Way. The two sometimes share an audience and send their fans to each other.

In promoting his series, Peabody has visited a handful of schools in the area, including his elementary school in Lacey and a school in Federal Way. He said he told the kids that writing is about finding one’s own voice — in a way, that’s what both he and the protagonist of “The Ink of Elspet” were doing.

“I tell kids: Nobody else can see the world through your perspective,” he said. “We need to hear your voice in the world.”