It’s been a while since I wrote you. I’ve missed you but I didn’t know what to say to you anymore. I’ve felt like I’ve been talking in circles in your story for years and just not getting anywhere and, to tell you the truth, I was starting to wonder if it was worth the trouble. I was starting to think that maybe your story was just for me and that maybe I ought to let it go.
Then along came April and National Poetry month. I wrote all these poems about my dad that I never knew and I started thinking about how much you and I were alike, how many questions we both have about our pasts.
April surprised me with all the feelings that got stirred up inside of me. Things I didn’t think bothered me started to bother me something fierce and things that should have pissed me off didn’t seem like such a big deal. Hurts I thought I had buried a long time ago came bubbling up to the surface to hurt me all over again but by the end of the month I had a few more answers than I’d had at the beginning of the month and even if I didn’t like the answers, well, they were my answers to my story.
Which got me thinking about you and Wilson and Tate and how, if I’m going to tell your story, the right story, I’m going to have to hurt you. A lot.
I’ll just go ahead an apologize for that now.
There have been some things going on in my life lately. Some things that have me thinking those deep, dark thoughts that keep you up at night. I found this old post from a few years ago that touches on it somewhat and I thought I’d share it again, (with some editing) because it explains a lot of where my mind is at of late . . . though it helps if you can read between the lines.
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Hemingway said, and I can’t remember the exact quote so I’ll try to paraphrase it, he said that he couldn’t write about Paris when he lived there. He had to leave Paris before he could put the words on the page that would describe his experiences. While living there it was too much, too intense, too something and it skewed his vision. He needed distance and the passage of time before he could tell his story.
Some stories, while not easy, can still be written while you are in the midst of living them. When my kids were little I wrote about events within weeks or months of them happening. It was fun, like putting things in their baby scrapbooks. I recorded their awkward moments, their growth, and many of our special family memories. I told stories about our family and I got paid for it. Now I can go back and reread those old articles and it’s like picking up an old teddy bear and paging through a scrapbook of their childhood.
But other stories, perhaps those that touch the most painful parts of us, lay fallow for many years before the words begin to venture forth. I believe our emotions go into self-preservation mode and give us time to heal before we’re strong enough to attempt share a piece of ourselves through the telling of a story. My first picture book, Can I Pray With My Eyes Open? rested deep beneath the surface for over 25 years before it burst forth, near fully formed in one sitting. I can tie that story to an exact moment in time, when I was 10 years old, and I know that the book was an answer to a question asked long ago. Another picture book, Oliver’s Must-do List , seems, at first, to be a simple story about a mother and a child have a playday together but I can tell you now that it was born of guilt – immense guilt that my children were grown and I couldn’t go back and spend more time with them. Hugging the Rock is a novel about fathers and daughters, but more than that, it is about making peace with things you cannot change. I never knew my father and I wondered about him for many years. I can’t remember when I finally stopped searching but when I did, I realized that my own story was inching closer to the surface, closer to being ready to be heard.
Hugging the Rock is also about picking up the pieces after a divorce. Though many friends advised me to, I couldn’t write about my own divorce in the years immediately after it happened. The pain was too immense, the emotions too raw. But time was a helpful balm. Eventually my emotions bubbled to the surface telling me when it was time to write the story. In the process of the writing there were still some deep and painful moments but because I had waited, I was strong enough to go to the dark places and still come out alive. Enough time had passed that I could accept the blame for what was mine and let go of the blame for anything else. I could see the details through the tears.
There are other childhood events I want to write about someday but they’re still simmering and I’m still healing. Those stories will have to wait a bit longer. It’s been almost a dozen years but I know I am not yet ready to write about my time in New Orleans. I don’t know how long it will take before I am brave enough to face those demons head on. Not all my writing is tied to a piece of my past but I am making an effort to mine the treasures I have within because I do believe that’s where the juiciest stories wait to be told.
As many of you know, I’m working on Flyboy’s story right now. This project began over 25 years ago when my then-husband and I spent weekends out on the tarmac, our necks straining as we watched the sky at the air shows the way film buffs watch the movies.
What part of my life is like Flyboy’s? Where’s the connection? What makes it so hard to write? I don’t fly planes. I’m not adopted. My dad wasn’t famous. But I know what it’s like for the main character to obsess about planes the way I obsess about writing. I know what it’s like to wonder where you came from and how that might affect where you’re going. I know what it’s like to feel lonely even in the midst of a family.
When you’ve been working on a book for over 25 years, like I have with this one, the story becomes so wrapped up in your own life that sometimes it’s hard to remember what happened to me and what happened to Flyboy. Was it Flyboy or was it me that found the box that held so many secrets? Was it Flyboy or was it me that met someone who knew their father and answered questions held silent for so long? Was it Flyboy or was it me that finally realized the true meaning of family?
I hope it is both. I hope I can tell that kind of a story, one that feels like it happened to you.
I hope that helping Flyboy find his answers will help me decide what to do with some questions of my own.
This week got away from me. I thought about blogging on Thursday and Friday but I missed it. I have a good excuse though. I’ve been working on Flyboy. In my actual office even.
1. I started this week with seven chapters of a sloppy draft of Flyboy. The goal being to get all the main characters introduced and show a couple of flying scenes. Goal met.
2. It was a really, really sloppy draft. So much so that a couple of times I wanted to cry because I thought I had forgotten how to write. I recovered enough to realize I do know how to write but am still not sure I know how to write this story.
3. Began revising. Why now? Because I wanted to get this partial into shape enough to send to my agent.
4. This week I printed out what I had written. Made changes in hard copy. Input changes. Went through and let Word highlight all my typically overused words. I am now on Chapter Four excessive word use clean-up.
5. After I finish #4, hopefully in a few hours, I will print it all out and go through it one more time. Then I will have no excuses left and have to face the, (cue the music) dreaded synopsis.
6. Plant Kid is still whispering in my ear though. He told me he wants his own blog and I about had a heart attack.
What’s in the wallet? Does it matter, really, or are you just playing with me? I’ve been driving toward that scene for what feels like forever and now, wham, you took the wind right out of my sails. What gives?
I don’t think you’re really that afraid of the dog after all but Spencer, yeah, she scares the crap out of you.
And eventually you need to talk to Wilson and Duncan or I might as well just kill them both off.
The other day I wrote letters to my characters. Today they wrote back.
Dear Author Who Has Trouble Recognizing Happy Herself,
Happy is easy. It’s when I fly. Anytime I take to the air I feel happy and if something is pissing me off, I forget about it as soon as I grip the yoke. Most of the time anyway. Perfect is tougher. The day I flew my first solo was pretty close. But I think the day Edna took me up in her old Stearman was about as close to perfect as I can remember. One of those lazy summer days where for once there wasn’t a pile of something gone wrong waiting for me on the ground. The sky was clear and still and I gazed out at it from between the flying wires and wanted us to keep on flying forever. The pockety-pockety sound of the engine was better than anything I had on my playlist.
Yeah, I’d say that day was pretty close to perfect. Until we landed.
Here’s the thing about bugs. If you stand still in front of a plant and just wait, the bugs will come. Big fuzzy Carpenter bees that make you want to reach out and touch their velvet fur. Hover flies that try to mimic bees. Katydids that blend in so well with the leaves that if you blink, they disappear. Over on the milkweed bright yellow aphids cover the plant and bring the ladybugs in for a feast. If you wait long enough you might see the ants band together to protect their aphids from the ladybug.
Once you stop using all that chemical junk in a yard it’s like a whole new universe moves in. Some bugs live. Some bugs die. But things happen the way they’re supposed to happen, in a way that makes sense if you apply nature’s logic.
When the rest of my world is turned upside down, it makes me feel better to see the garden balancing things out.
The creep knows what he did. I’m not talking about it until I know he’s locked up or dead. And I’m not lying about my sister. It’s plain and simple. I told you what happened. I told you it was my fault. Would I admit something like that if it wasn’t the truth?
Max wants to know how you are going to make sure to keep him safe.
That’s not a chip on my shoulder. That’s a pile of scars from every time my dad hauled off and hit me for no reason at all.
I wonder what a perfect day is like for you or would you even recognize it when you saw it? Are you so busy feeling sorry for yourself that you’ve forgotten what it is like to be happy? Can you tell me about one absolutely perfect day in your life?
Author in search of happy days
Dear Plant Kid,
It is plants you’re obsessed with right and not bugs? Because I sense you going off to the buggy world a little bit too much. I know if you have plants you have bugs but can we just think of them as spices and not a main course?
Author a little bit bug obsessed herself
Even though you’ve been pushed to third or fourth on my list doesn’t mean I’m not still thinking about you, jotting down ideas as they come to me. But you know where I’m stumped. You have to tell me what really happened with your mother’s boyfriend and you have to quit lying to me about your sister.
Author afraid of what you are going to tell her
Welcome to the part of my world where I talk about you before you are totally real to me. I’m not sure where fall on my list behind Flyboy. We’ll just have to see how quickly you come to life. What I want to know about you first is where did you get that giant chip on your shoulder? I already know what you do about it but I want to go back to where it all began.
Author who has no idea where you came from only what you did that started it all
In response to the letters I wrote to characters yesterday, the characters have written back. Yesterday was one of those wonderful writing times when I started writing the letter to Flyboy and suddenly had several plots items fall nicely into place. It opened the door to a couple of great scenes and some nice potential conflict. I love it when my weird process works!
Dear Clueless Author,
Did you see the size of that dog? He was catching steel-belted tires in mid-air. There is no way I am going anywhere near that monster.
So you’re telling me that you can’t remember the dog my babysitter had when we lived in Iowa? The one the who grabbed hold of my ankle when I was on the swing and decided to use me as a pull-toy? If Wilson hadn’t come home when he did and turned the hose on that wolf I might have lost my foot. How is it that you can remember what altitude I’m supposed to be flying but you can’t remember something as important as me getting bit by a dog? Sometimes I wonder why you even want to tell my story.
Okay, maybe you need glasses. That would explain the dog thing. Did you take a look at Spencer? I mean, she had a tank top on so tight that she wasn’t leaving much to the imagination, if you know what I mean. I took one look at her . . . well, at her and I decided that keeping the truck between her and a certain part of my anatomy was probably a good thing. I have no idea who Edna is but please don’t make her look anything like Spencer, will ya?
I don’t know what’s in the wallet because, as you might remember if your brain wasn’t fried from being old, I dropped the wallet when that security guard caught me and it’s still sitting under a plane at the airport. At least I hope that’s where it is.
Now you have to figure out how I can convince Spencer to take me back there so I can get the wallet before someone else finds it. And while you’re at it can you make sure Wilson isn’t too pissed off at me whenever I finally do get back home again?
You know those bugs you found? Well they’re important. Especially the one that creeps you out. If I were you I’d make sure to keep checking the yarrow for bugs and taking pictures. I’m not sure what I’m going to need them for but I’m pretty sure they’re important to my story.
Here’s the thing. Summer time, nice weather like you’re having now, well it might seem like the perfect time for working on my story but you’d be wrong. Not a time to be moving those native plants around. It’s too hot and there’s no water and everything’s in a state of rest. That’s okay. Underneath those 4 inches mulch there’s a lot happening. Worms are churning up the soil something fierce. Tap roots are finding their way deeper and deeper underground, looking for that water table. And all kinds of micro organisms are banding together like a family of their own to make the soil healthier than it was before. Stuff’s happening above ground too. Seeds are ripening and then falling out of the flowers and onto the mulch where they’ll wait (if the birds don’t get ‘em first) for the rains to come and start everything a’growing again.
So it’s okay to wait.
But yeah, there’s still a big old hole in the roof, almost as big as the one in my family. Nan, she waltzes in and out of our lives whenever she wants. Can’t seem to find a place to sink her roots and grow. Grammy, well she likes to pretend Nan’s okay but I know better.
Dear Writer Person,
I’m waiting with the gypsy lady until you have time for me. Can’t figure there’s any reason to speak up when I know you’re not going to listen. I’m used to being invisible. I like it when people don’t notice me. Less chances of getting hurt that way.
It’s been a while so I thought I would check in with each of my characters via letters.
As always, they surprise me.
How is it that I never knew you were afraid of dogs? When did that happen? I thought you and Zero were going to be the best of friends. And why won’t you get in the darn truck? Spencer is going to lose patience with you and that is not going to settle well with Edna. You need Spencer on your side or haven’t you figured that out yet?
Also, I really need to know what you found when you looked in the wallet. You did remember to pick the wallet up when you dropped it at the airport right? When the security guard was chasing you? Because if you don’t have it I don’t know who does and boy is that going to cause some problems.
the author who only just this second realized you dropped the wallet. Whoa! Thank you for that plot development.
Dear Plant Kid,
I hear you talking to me every day and I’m really sorry I haven’t had time to sit with you lately. I agree that the time to be working on your book. I think of you when I pull weeds or collect seeds or take pictures of the various bugs I’m finding in the garden. And yes, now that I better understand the real theme in Flyboy’s story I understand that the two of you are completely different and have completely different stories to tell.
But one thing I still don’t understand about you…are you living with your sister or your grandmother or both? And is there still a hole in the roof?
the author who thinks you have at least three different stories to tell her.
Where did you go? I haven’t heard from you in a long time and I fear that Cooper has moved into your place in the WIP line. Janie might be there in front too. Along with the non-fiction projects. If you don’t speak up I fear you disappearing completely.
Flyboy has written back, in response to this letter.
First of all, Spencer needs to mind her own business. I didn’t ask her to poke her nose into what is going on with me and Wilson and D. How am I supposed to feel when I come from THE WORST DAY IN MY LIFE EVER and Spencer perched on the side of the bed like a little bird spooning who knows what kind of elixir into D’s mouth and then laughing at Wilson’s jokes? Even Nurse Lemon has fallen under her spell. Well not me.
D doesn’t have to talk to make it clear how he feels about me. Plus he throws things at me. Pillows and books I can handle but the other day he threw a baseball at my head. How would that make YOU feel?
As for Wilson, maybe he could ask me how I feel once in a while?
I will not talk to you about the dog at all. AT ALL. Do you understand?
What makes you think D hates you? Pretty self-centered of you if you ask me. Did you ever think that maybe his world doesn’t revolve around you? Boggles the mind a bit, doesn’t it?
And Spencer was only trying to help. And you knew that. I don’t know if she’ll ever forgive you and honestly, I can’t say that I’d blame her if she doesn’t. And Edna is really going to be pissed about the whole thing when she finds out. Really, really pissed.
Oh and there there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to be afraid of that dog. Have you seen the way he follows Spencer around like a lovesick fool hoping for her to touch him? Doesn’t that make him look the least bit cuddly?
Don’t even get me started about Wilson. You could cut him some slack you know. At least for now. Later I’ll understand if you don’t but right now I know more than you know so why not lighten up on him a bit?
In response to yesterday’s letters to characters they, in return, have written back.
There’s that saying about hiding in plain sight and how it makes it harder for people to find you. Do you think that’s true?
Letting people know what I am really feeling gives them power. Giving away your power is never a good thing. Trust me on that.
I’m a woman in a man’s world, of course I’m tough. But I’m a mom too. Don’t forget about that.
Have you ever done something and wished you could undo it? Have you ever had to wake up every single day of your life and sit across the breakfast table from someone who reminds you, just by his appearance about how much you screwed up?
Any guts I had rotted out years ago. You know that. I know I was an idiot many times over. I know he is going to find out the truth. And I know that everything is going to hit the proverbial fan when he does.
If you would give me a name I might tell you where I am. Until then you’re out of luck.
While I know you think you are doing a good of hiding what you are really feeling I think someone is going to figure you out pretty soon. Boy are you going to ticked when you find out who it is.
Arrested? Really? You ARE tough,
Dear Flyboy’s dad,
I don’t know if are ballsy or just plain dumb. For Flyboy’s sake, I hope it’s the second one.
Where ARE you? Or did you decide I didn’t really need you after all?
Author relying on index cards in order to tell this story
Tried to post this before bed last night but couldn’t get into LJ.
Flyboy, day 1.
Not all new words. I had two beginnings in two different notebooks so I was merging them as I typed them into the computer. Much of the airplane research has left my brain so I have had to leave lots of spaces with notes (describe this) (needs more details) (etc)
But it is a start. A chapter. I don’t think I have a voice yet but I have questions.
12/15 is the deadline to get this into for critiques at our local conference. I haven’t signed up for a critique there in oh, 10 years. I’m hoping it will be the prod to keep me moving on.
I don’t know anything about a leather jacket but I did find a box. A box I don’t think I was supposed to find. And I am pissed off big time about what I found inside.
I’m not really sure what to do about it. It’s times like this I really wish I had a mom or a sister or someone that I could talk to about this stuff. I’m really sick and tired of people telling me to be grateful for what I’ve got because crap, there are a lot of things I don’t have or know that are more important to me than what I do. But I’m a kid and I’m not supposed to think like that. I’m supposed to suck it up and be happy I’m not in some foster home or living on the street or off in some foreign country with bombs going off all around me.
Well screw all that. I’m 16 years old and I’m self-centered spoiled brat.
Deal with it.
Mr. Mac gave me one of his mini lectures the other day. This one was on plants that go along for hundreds of years thinking they’re called one thing and then wham, they wake up in the morning and they’re called something else. Did you know they could do genetic testing on plants, like a DNA test they do on people to find out if they’re related? Anyway, Mr. Mac says while it might be nice to know which plant is related to another one it really doesn’t make any difference to the plant. It’s either gonna grow or not grow and calling it something different isn’t going to change a thing.
When I was a little kid, I mean really little, I used to think that going for a ride in the car was this great big adventure. Even if all my mom or dad was going to do was race down to the quick mart for diapers for my sister, I wanted to go. I was good at pretending we were heading for the moon instead.
I was pretty good at getting my way too. I had the cute face and the pouting face and the please don’t you know I’m the best kid in the entire world face down to a science. It was all in the timing. Ask too soon and the answer would still be no. Ask too early and my mom would tell me to quit being a goofball. But if I asked just right I had a pretty good chance of making one of them say yes.
Now I’ve just got one face. It’s just the here I am what do you want me to do now kind of face. Nothing special.
And I don’t ask anyone for anything anymore.
Find the leather jacket. That’s all I can tell you right now and you probably won’t like me very much when you do but trust me, you need to find the leather jacket.
Author who knows the secret
Dear Plant kid,
That new project at school, the family tree. Sorry. I’d like to tell you that it will all work out just fine but honestly, I haven’t a clue.
Author with questions of her own
We are at an absolute stop. I mean it. A complete and utter stop until you fess up and tell me what happened to your sister. I mean what REALLY happened. Not what you keep telling everyone else.
Author sitting in the dark
Dear Author Who Should Have Known Better,
Remembering things I care about is easy. It’s all that other useless crap that’s hard. Tell me how diagramming sentences or conjugating French verbs is ever going to help me fly a plane? When I’m flying, I don’t much care how clean my room is or whether or not I made the bed. It doesn’t matter. Nothing else matters. Just flying.
About the dog. There’s always a dog. Haven’t you figured that out yet? Madison, Zero, Max, Guster, Fuzzbucket and Baron. There’s probably more. But there’s always a dog.
Dear Needy Author,
I need lots of things. I need to know why my mom never talked about my siser but why she sent me here to live just before she died but I probably never will on account of the fact that my mom is dead now. I need to know all the things Mr. Mac knows about native plants but I probably never will on account of that thing that happened that started the whole story in the first place. I need to fit somewhere, anywhere. I’m tried of being told to "bloom wherever I’m planted" because planting something means setting down roots and roots tie you to something, someone and near as I can figure, I’m not tied to anything.
No roots makes it kind of hard to stand up for anything at all.
Dear Nosy Author,
The trouble with little sisters is they’re so darn cute all the time. Or they think they are. Or everyone around you thinks they are. Do you have any idea how many times someone pushed me out of the way so they could get to her and go gaga over her stupid baby noises?
Lots of times it’s the same thing with dogs. But different. Or maybe it’s me that’s different now. I won’t make the same mistake with Max that I made with my little sister.
Of course I probably won’t get the chance, either.
When did you get so smart?
Yes, writing about you will help me but what I am supposed to do when the siren goes off and there’s no one in the seat next to me to bring me out of the spin before I crash?
No, don’t answer that.
Instead, tell me how it is that you can remember what all those lights and dials and meters mean on the dashboard of an airplane, you can calculate things like the weight of fuel and passengers and and baggage how it effects lift-off and landings, you can plot a long cross-country flight that will take you an entire day and 3 fuel stops, but you can’t remember to feed the dog?
Author who didn’t even know you had a dog
Dear Plant Kid,
Your voice changed. You’re no longer the thoughtful, introspective kid I’ve been writing about and I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I’m trying not to think about it but I can’t help it. I noticed it a little in the Teaser Tuesday post and now I am wondering if there’s a smart aleck trying to get out. Oh gosh I hope not. I can’t do smart aleck. Not for a whole book. And I don’t see a smart aleck as being the nature nurturing soul that I thought you were.
Maybe it will be different once you’ve finished composting.
If I work on your book I am saying that I trust myself enough to write a book that has no plot, no problem, no purpose with the hope that those needed pieces will appear by the time I reach the end. I don’t know if I trust you that much. I already know you don’t care. I already know that you don’t need me as much as I need you. And maybe that’s part of the problem. You don’t need me at all. Flyboy needs me. Frankie and Max need me. But, you’re so darn self-sufficient that you don’t need me or Mr. Mac or your sister or anyone. I don’t know how old you are but you’ve already got more control of your life than I can ever hope to find.
There are lots of things you don’t know but you don’t even care that you don’t know them.
Author who needs to be needed
At last, you have a NAME! I’m so happy. I’ve been wondering if it might be you but I’ve been a bit afraid of going back to your story. I mean, the stuff that happens to Max is bad enough but the stuff with your sister . . . <gulp> Even as backstory it’s not going to be pretty or fun. I’ve seen books written about the sort of thing that happened to your sister and I’ve seen books written about the sort of thing that happens to Max. How can I make it different?
Of course here is where I start to second guess myself. Maybe it is all going to be too icky and depressing and maybe people don’t want to read about that kind of stuff. Or not anymore. I can psych myself out by reading articles about too many depressing stories for kids today or why can’t there be any happy families in children’s books. The more I read those sorts of things the less I think anyone wants to hear about your story. And I can’t help but wonder if dark, hard hitting books with issues at the core, are they the kind of books that people reread again and again? I’m thinking maybe not.
I know you said you didn’t want to talk about it but you know we have to. Now is as good a time as any. Frankie, tell me about your sister.
Author stocking up on tissues