Because I was on national radio (Bill Martinez Live — Rapid Fire Radio) this morning talking about the year I home schooled my son, I remembered this post I’d written at the end of that year. It’s still pretty tender and close to my heart. I decided to re-post it here for anyone who hasn’t already read this story. It was a winner of the Arizona Mothers Inc essay contest and received a runner up at the national contest, so I guess that makes me “an award-winning author.” Mostly, this post makes me feel like God cares about me, even as an imperfect mother.
And so I present to you (again) “Seeds Grow In Dirt.”
It was a rotten year and a half for housework.
My New Year’s resolution was to keep my house utterly clean. I washed walls, I organized closets, I dreamed of shininess.
Then, my oldest son had a problem with school. And pregnancy happened—never my finest hours. Within a short time I was a pregnant, home-schooling mom of four kids under ten with a perpetual headache. A major accomplishment for the day was setting out the cold cereal at mealtime.
The year went on. Home-school continued, and the baby arrived, and everyone knows how productive those first few months aren’t with a newborn. If her little white nightgowns were clean, I felt like queen of all housework.
Meanwhile, grime pockets formed behind doors, dust bunnies grew and had bunny families—several generations of them. The top of our old piano started to collect so many items it could open an antique store of its own. At a low point, there was a two-week period where someone broke a different item made of glass every single day. For some reason I got called to the Relief Society presidency, just to add to the chaos.
Months passed. Baby learned to crawl. My year teaching a bright, much happier, 4th grader wound down. The two preschoolers started to be a little less prone to break glass. But the house languished, nay, wallowed in its filth, especially the formerly light blue carpet. In fact, one spring afternoon after Little League, I had an argument with Zane, who insisted our carpet is grey. “Light blue,” I claimed half-heartedly, barely remembering the true color myself.
Summer came. All five kids tracked in roughly 75 pounds of dirt from their treasure pit in the sand pile and about a million squished leaves from their fort under the nectarine tree. My girls had birthday parties for their teddy bears that for some reason involved crumbling blueberry muffins into oblivion on the grey carpet, possibly in an attempt to turn it blue again. I got drafted to be the interim Webelos leader and actually sanctioned large messes in the house. Cousins came over and incited a game as destructive as it sounds: Toy War. We went through our twelfth 100-count box of Otter Pops and our second vacuum cleaner motor (due to renegade thread while the oldest three kids learned embroidery.)
When mid-August rolled around, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Stephen went back to fifth grade, and he found a niche in learning there. Zane opted out of soccer, so we now only had one uniform to find on Saturday mornings. Rachel started kindergarten, and Catherine dropped out of preschool after a month to stay home to paint and do coloring books with mom. Baby Zuzu could now walk around by herself, looking for stray popcorn kernels to gnaw on with her two teeth.
Things got quieter around home.
With a sense of newfound power, I conducted a yard sale, which made it so we could park inside our garage again. Miracle. Next I looked to tackle the house.
That first morning, however, I caught a glimpse of our kitchen sink, the drainer side. Whoa. How long had it been? A while, for sure. Gingerly I lifted the drainer.
Oh. My. Goodness. What was that green thing?
I pulled out the clean, drying measuring cups and lifted the rack from the sink. Yep, something was definitely growing there: a two-pronged leaf sprout, about four inches tall.
With a squeal of horror I plucked out the sink stopper and found the little white root ball and what looked like the yellow-brown transparent hull of a popcorn kernel around its base. Or maybe it was one of Gary’s gardening projects. Or an escaped food-storage black eyed pea?
No! How could I have let the sink cleaning lapse long enough for a seed to germinate and sprout—plus grow four inches? I wanted to cry. What a terrible housekeeper. My kids could probably get some kind of disease from filth this rampant! My word! A seed grew in my sink!
Then a thought stopped my self-berating rant.
Hey. Seeds grow in dirt.
In the past couple of years my most precious seeds, all five of them, had grown an awful lot in this dirt.
Now, I certainly hadn’t been a perfect mother by anyone’s definition. I hadn’t kept a cheery temperament every single day. I hadn’t nurtured my children in every way possible. Without question, I had not created an “antiseptic environment” for my little ones to play and learn in.
But they grew.
I know they say cleanliness is next to godliness. Whoever “they” are, they’re mean. That’s too much pressure. Seriously. Instead I find myself thinking maybe other things wedge their way into the lineup beside godliness. Maybe doing-the-best-you-can-motherhood is one of them. After all, God helps all things to grow. Maybe that’s what motherhood is all about.
Now, it’s not that I will henceforth refuse to scrub my tub or decide never to replace that ailing vacuum. But God formed Man out of the dust of the Earth. Perhaps I ought to be aiming to do that, too—to form men and women out of these sweet little seeds they are now, and remember that most seeds require all kinds of light, and water (that’d be Saturday night baths), and at least a little dirt. Because seeds grow in dirt.
This morning I sat down with my list of goals called “Stuff I Want to Do in 2014.” When I wrote it a year ago, I didn’t realize what kinds of opportunities and adventures would come my way this year. It made me reflect on some of the super cool unexpected things that happened this year to me as a writer. It’s just wild to think of all the things I’ve had happen.
1) Speaking at Comic Con
It was quite an experience to attend the Fan-X in Salt Lake City in April. Well, for one, I never dreamed of attending a Comic Con, let alone be asked to sit on four writing panels! Back to the Future, Japanese Culture, Is Disney Relevant to Adults?, and Writing for Young People. My husband went along with me to keep me company (and my cousin Lisa came and sat with me at the booth one day.) I met some really interesting people, and got to sit on those panels with authors who have been my writing idols for years. What an honor! I almost felt like an impostor, a fraud. But there I was. And I can’t believe what a neat chance it was. Plus, seeing all the costumes? Shazam.
2) Having a book optioned for film.
THIS was a dream come true. In September of 2013, I stepped way outside my comfort zone and went to Hollywood to pitch my book to movie producers. Holy scary! But the time and money and courage were worth it because I think I met the perfect person to get behind my project. He really saw the vision of the BIG IN JAPAN book and is working on getting funding and out shopping it to the money people. Cross your fingers and say your prayers for his success. He’s a great guy, and he deserves to have something great happen for his career. And those of you who’ve read BIG might agree that Buck Cooper deserves some time on screen. Call me ego-centric if you must, but this book would honestly be a really good movie.
3) Having another book be considered for film adaptation and being able to hand a copy of the book to the person I dreamed of having star in the movie.
While at that same conference, I met a different producer who loved the concept of SUPER DAISY. He had me revamp it to adapt for screen. It could die on the vine, but whatevs, baby. It’s just fun to get asked to the prom, even if you don’t end up going. Then, at Comic Con, I was able to cross paths with Mallory Everton of Studio C fame and plop a copy of Super Daisy in her hands. She would be the PERFECT Daisy. Ahhhh. Dreams.
4) Being invited to participate in two collaborations
Being part of the Ripples collaboration and writing IMMERSED opened my eyes to a million new possibilities and gave me courage to really branch out in my writing into some fun areas of romantic comedy. The project had such a quick turnaround that I realized a book doesn’t need to take yeeeeeeeears to complete and bring to print. What an awesome thing to realize as a writer. It pumps up the productivity and creativity level to new and exciting heights. I’ve had so much fun writing my own stuff since then. Even if some pet projects keep getting bogged down by plot changes. Ugh. But I believe! And the other project, STRANGE AND LOVELY, was such a great thing, learning and getting to be involved with other authors whose work and success I admire so much. What an honor.
Well, that’s not all the coolness of this year. But I just felt so blessed this morning as I reflected on the coolness. And I have all of you to thank too, as you read my books and supported me and encouraged me. You’re the best part of all of this. A big THANK YOU to you.
Yesterday I’d hit a wall in my writing, as I tried to push my NaNoWriMo novel forward. But it was awful. Sometimes I think bringing forth a novel is a lot like childbirth. Painful, a total body experience, a lot of work, and quite as much a spiritual effort as a physical and mental one. Labor. And sometimes there’s a mixture of gasping and prayer involved.
And yesterday was no exception. Finally, I resorted to breaking out my post-Halloween-stash of BooBerry cereal. When I was in Walmart one day, I noticed the price on the family size boxes of all the monster cereals had temporarily gone down from $3.48 a box to just $1.00. Guess who bought TEN boxes. Okay, maybe it was eleven. And they’re mostly gone now. Including the box I opened yesterday.
I am not proud.
And my tongue might be permanently blue.
But then I asked the “People of Facebook” for a bit of feedback, this time about paintings and what art they knew of that was instantly recognizable. Their responses, which related directly to some of the blocks I was facing in my book, went straight to the heart of my problem and broke the wall in pieces. My fears and worries about the direction I’d chosen dissipated and this morning I was off to the races again. Another few thousand words onto the page (after deleting about that many or more).
A hallelujah moment–one to be celebrated with the remainder of the box of BooBerry.
Thanks, friends. It’s nice to know that people have my back.
Now…a few more words on the page before my kids get home from school.
It’s done! Yay! It took a wild wrong turn partway through, but I rewrote from the blank page and then ended up improving it. (Pretty sure of that.) Feeling excited about the changes. In fact, I might have to make December in JenNoWriMo so I can finish the rest of the story. #amwriting #andwritingandwritingandwriting
Okay, I didn’t actually think this would happen, but all of a sudden, Immersed has a new cover!
I’m so excited. I love these models and the look on their faces and how well they fit the story. It’s just…awesome. Big thank you to Rachael Renee Anderson for her incredible skills. She’s pretty dang amazing, right? And if I told you how fast she whipped this up, you’d cry in your tea. I know I did. Well, it wasn’t tea because I’m kind of a weirdo and only, only, only ever drink water. But yeah. Cried in my beverage.
Okay, and do you know what I like best? Her hair. Big hair. I am a child of the 80s, when big hair was the only hair. In fact, there’s this picture of me, circa 1989, in a newspaper article for Utah Schools Sterling Scholars in English (that was me, just for my school, I didn’t win for the state, of course. I write fluff.) And my face was about 10% of the center of the rectangle, and my hair took up the rest of the frame. Someday I shall learn how to scan photos and then I will amaze you all with the fluffiness of this future fluff-writer.
What do you think? If you already read the book, does this look like Lisette and Erik?
If you haven’t read the book yet, it’s up and for sale and stuff already. Like, now. And it’s only $2.99. Cheaper than a cup of tea or a large dirty Dr. Pepper. If you drink that stuff. I’m the weird person only drinking water. In the corner. By myself. With the big hair.
So I started my NaNoWriMo project, and quickly sailed through the first 20K words. As always. And then I hit the 20K wall. As always. Then, I decided it was time to take the story to the expert, my muse, the smartest man I know: my husband. He read the first 100 pages of my old draft (from last spring). We hashed it out, and he told me what I already should’ve known and kind of knew and didn’t want to admit.
My story had a lame plot.
The characters? Sparkly. The concept? Dynamite. The setting? Really cool. The plot? Muddled and uninspiring and lame.
Sigh. He was so right. I hated that he was right because this book was something I’d put a lot, lot, lot of time into. This, in fact, was about my 7th rewrite. Not from the ground up, mind you, but working with the same characters, concept and setting…and plot. Every time I’d rewrite I’d wonder, “Uh, why is this STILL not working?” Because it wasn’t.
It made me think back on a book I’ve been slowly going through, written by Larry Brooks, who I’d met a couple of years ago at the ANWA Conference in Phoenix. His book is called Story Engineering, and in it he talks about the six things that make a story work. I had five. I was missing #6. Plot.
So. So. Sad.
And I finally, as I stood ready to take a swan dive off that 20K word wall last week, was humbled enough to let that sink in. While we were on a family outing to the river to throw rocks –Honestly, that’s a fun family outing. We love throwing rocks. Last month we threw rocks off a mountain.–we talked a little about possible changes to the plot and came up with something drastic. Well, I thought it was drastic. It would involve cutting out about fifteen characters. (Is this a tipoff that the plot was messy?) It would change all the motivations (and the ages) of the remaining characters. It would bring in the Nazis and throw out the muddled mess. It looked like…work. Intense work. But probably the right thing to do.
Then a big thing happened. An author friend had also given up her entire weekend and read my last full draft (with the old plot). Bless her heart! And she called and said she loved it–the characters, the setting, the concept, the dialogue, all just blew her away. Publish immediately.
I was so relieved. Then I asked her about the plot. “Oh, there were some parts that are maybe a little hard to follow, but I think you finally tied it all together in the end.”
Bingo. Less enthusiastic. I told her my husband’s assessment (which was diametrically opposed to her.) She, bless her, said he was up a tree. He didn’t “get” me. And in a way she was right. But that wasn’t good. I wanted him to get me, and everyone else to get me. She said to ignore him. I wanted so badly to believe her.
This left me mightily confused. I was asking that question of Jack Nicholson as The Joker, “Who do you trust?” But I had on less pancake makeup.
So I called yet another author friend. She’d been going through similar edits and finally had had a breakthrough. She said she’d also give my old draft a read this week. Bless HER heart.
But as soon as I got off the phone with her, my original friend called back. I told her I was still on the fence, and asked if I could just tell her the beginning of the outline Gary and I had come up with. I did. She was silent for a bit.
“Oh, I hate to tell you this,” she said, “and I am married to that old book. But, to be honest, I like this better. Much better.”
Suddenly, the clouds parted.
I knew exactly what I had to do.
Since then, I’ve written 14K on that new draft. It was a super busy weekend, so I got nothing done then, but I’ve been on fire otherwise. It’s flowing pretty well, and since I already know these characters, I know how they will react in these new (less muddled) situations. It’s not too horrid. Granted, I’m only at 14K and haven’t hit that 20K wall yet. Maybe I won’t. (Ha ha.)
But I’m left with a question of my integrity. How do I measure word count for NaNoWriMo? Do I have to adjust my word count back down to 14K now? Or can I add the stuff I’m going to scrap from that proverbial “wrong turn at Albuquerque?” If I hadn’t made that wrong turn, I never would have gotten on the right road, I am pretty sure of that. But do the words only count from the actual draft that will become The Book?
I don’t want to be a cheater. And if it makes me “lose” NaNoWriMo, so be it. I will still come out a winner, since I’ll finally be on the track of the book I have been TRYING to write for two entire years.
Can the NaNo police, or someone with a good sense of right and wrong please advise me? I look forward to your counsel.
Thank you. And now, to the manuscript.
It’s officially underway, the NaNoWriMo challenge. Not all people have heard of this. I mentioned it to my sister, who did say she’d heard of it but thought it was a conference. (It’s okay, Carrie. If I weren’t steeped in this whole writing culture, I wouldn’t know either.)
November. It’s not just about not shaving. It’s also National Novel Writing Month. (a.k.a., NaNoWriMo.)
Thousands of writers sign up on the official website, NaNoWriMo.org, and take the challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November. This works out to about 2,000 words per day, if you take the Sabbath off. It all happens under the NaNoWriMo pretext: “The World Needs Your Novel.”
Now, I’m pretty sure the world does not NEEEEEED my novel. I am okay with that. It’s not like I’m Charles Dickens and making a thinly veiled social statement that will change the orphanage system in England–nor anything like unto it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I only write escapist fiction. The world doesn’t NEEEEEED it with all six capital Es. But maybe it needs it, with just two small ones.
Today I’m six days in, and I’m at word count. Probably tomorrow I’ll fall behind. And I’ll fall farther behind on Saturday and Sunday. That’s just how my life goes. My weekends belong to my family, Sundays to the Lord. Otherwise, I’d lose all balance.
But come Monday, I’m pretty sure I’ll be slapping out conflict, dialogue and characterization again–as much as I can. It’s pretty fun. I haven’t written a Young Adult novel in a while. My last release, the short story in the Strange and Lovely anthology last month got me thinking in a teen mindset again, so I decided to jump back in those waters. It’s really fun. I love it when writing is really fun.
Later, after NaNo, I’ll go back and edit the book I finished in October. And the book I was editing in September. And probably write a sequel to the October novel. And possibly rewrite something I wrote last September. And then I’ll edit this NaNo book, and then …
Life is too short to write all the stories I have in my head. It should be called NaNoWriLi, with Li for life.
I know romances often revolve around the “big three words.” But today, this romantic comedy writer wrote the big two:
Yeah, it was just the end of a first draft that’s probably a lot crummier than I’d like to admit. But still, I can’t improve it until there’s something to improve upon. And now…there is!
Hooray for THE END. Three cheers for those two words.
And just in time, too, because tomorrow starts the famous (or infamous?) NaNoWriMo. If you’re not familiar with that, it’s National Novel Writing Month. You can sign up here and challenge yourself to write 50,000 words during the month of November. Track your progress, connect with other writers, make friends, get motivated, and try to win. How do you win? Winning means that you write all 50,000 words in a month!
(Kinda.) Good luck, writing buddies! I’d love to hear how your progress is going! And definitely, if you get to write a THE END anywhere, I want to hear about it.
Love y’all. Happy writing!
I love a giveaway. It’s like…getting something for free! Free is such a good price.
This is an exciting giveaway because there are a ton of prizes all designed specifically for readers! And best of all, you could win a copy of Strange and Lovely! Enter away, friends. I hope you win!!!!!