Thursday, November 21, 2013

Written with Love

This writing journey has been a long, meandering one with highlights and low points, but I'll save those for another post. My biggest highlight up until now has been when Pat Conroy left a voice message for me after reading my letter. Then he blurbed my first published novel, The Spirit of Sweetgrass. But that was my biggest highlight till now.

On Monday, my 10-year-old daughter finished reading the first book I ever wrote. No, it wasn't The Spirit of Sweetgrass, it was an unpublished book I wrote just before that. Just for her.

I began writing a middle grade novel when I was pregnant with my daughter. She was my first child, and I was terribly excited about her. I loved her before she entered my world, and I wanted to do something for her. So I began writing a book, a novel, inspired by the popularity of the Harry Potter series, but with a girl as the heroine, and instead of magic, more of a spiritual twist.

My character Hannah Bliss was born before my daughter. I'd never written a novel before. Didn't know if I could do it. Didn't know WHAT I was doing. But I finished it. It was bout 33,000 words, a good length for middle grade fiction. I wrote and rewrote it. I decided to see if I could get it published. It didn't go anywhere as I couldn't get an agent, but I learned how to write a query letter. I learned I could finish a book. This was all preparation for my next book, The Spirit of Sweetgrass, which hit me when I was pregnant with my second child, my son.

My first book in the Hannah Bliss series, Paradise, has been sitting dormant in my computer for the last 10 years. I thought it its purpose was served. It taught me I could write a book. But on Monday, I realized I had underestimated it completely.

My daughter was talking about science, and it occurred to me that Hannah Bliss loved science, she was also passionate, messy, a good friend, and sometimes my daughter. I decided maybe now was the time. I figured out how to put the book on my Nook and asked if she wanted to read it. Lately, finally, she loves to read.

She would go to bed with the Nook, and I would wait anxiously each morning to see what she had thought of the night's reading. "Are you enjoying it?" I would ask. She would nod, and that was pretty much it. But on Monday, she called me from the other room. "I finished it!" she said.

What you must know about my daughter is that she is very smart, very analytical, and will tell you straight to your face what she thinks, good or bad. I ask her about my paintings sometimes. If she's not enthusiastic, she's usually right, and I go at it again.

So before I could ask her any questions about Hannah Bliss, she said, "I think you should try to get this published."

"What?" I wasn't sure I heard her right, so she said it again.

Then she added, "I had to keep reminding myself that my MOM wrote this."

I took that as a compliment. From this point, I asked her all kinds of questions about plot, characterization, etc, and she had some honest critique and some encouragement for me. I wrote it all down. "How did you feel when it ended?" I asked her.

"Like I wanted another book," she said. I thought, maybe she's just being nice to me.

But then she came in when I was cooking dinner and started coming up with ideas for book two, what would happen with Hannah in the next book, the rest of the series.

Wow. I think she did like it! She went on to claim that it reminded her of the author of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

"C. S. Lewis?" I asked. Dying. Gulp.

"Yeah, how he writes things that symbolize other things."

Wow again. I really think she did get it.

The night for me was a full-circle moment, one I never anticipated. It came upon me with the sweetest surprise. I stood there in my kitchen, remembering her in my tummy. I remembered struggling through that book. I had no idea it was preparing me for a career in novel-writing. No idea it would prepare me to write and publish 6 adult novels. No idea the satisfaction that would come about when my little girl was finally old enough to appreciate the novel just for her.

I had written it in love, and apparently, that's the secret ingredient to doing anything worthwhile and long-lasting.

When I picked her up from school yesterday, my daughter said she had Bible study with some of the 5th grade girls and a mom. They were talking about how some people try hard to get to heaven on their own. My daughter spoke up and said it reminded her of this book her mom wrote. "See, Hannah Bliss tries hard to get to Paradise on her own, but she's not ready. When she gets there, she can't stay. She has to stay here on earth and grow and mature."

She told me this, and my heart melted. She did get it. My most important reader understood and enjoyed my novel just for her. For a writer, highlights don't get much "higher" than this.

So I'm waiting any day now for my agent to get back with what she thinks about my latest adult novel. In the meantime, I'm thinking maybe I should dust off Hannah Bliss, and see what adventures she might get into in Book #2.

Do you have old unpublished books lying under your bed? Might you think about dusting them off and sharing them with someone you love?


Renea said...

Nicole, how wonderful, absolutely wonderful. I am thrilled that she read the book, and that she encouraged you. Isn't it lovely when our children can become an encourager to us. I know this book will be great!
Best to you,
Renea W

Shellie Tomlinson said...

Love this -- if possible-- even more than when we were talking about it over the phone. Yes, yes, yes-- let's hear more from Hanna!