I was stuck at a campsite with a sleeping toddler while my husband, older son, and friends were off water skiing when the idea for a story began to take shape. So many ideas flooded my mind that I grabbed a notebook and scribbled down my ideas before they could slip away. This had never happened to me before, and it came as a complete surprise. The only explanation I have is that alone in the woods with only magazines I had already read and no electronics to distract me, my mind was finally free enough to explore.
I’d just finished reading Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis to my older son. The premise of the book was a simple idea made rich with realistic details and enough mystery to keep me intrigued. It struck me that the writer seemed to know a lot about the subject matter. The experts say, “Write what you know.” I asked myself, “What do I know?” I know what it’s like to live with an angry person. I know about blended families. I know what it’s like to grow up Mennonite. I know what it’s like to be a teenage girl. I know grief, bitterness, and the relief of surrendering to my Creator and remembering His goodness. I know the struggle between standing up for what I believe is right and keeping quiet in the face of what I believe is wrong simply to keep the peace and to fit in with others in my community. These themes woven together, along with a lot of research for the parts I haven’t experienced, make up When Sparrows Fall.
When my camping co-horts returned from the lake, I told them my book idea. They encouraged me to try to write it. Later that week, I sat down and wrote two chapters. I read them to my older son, and he wanted to know what happened next, so I was encouraged to keep writing. I wrote a third chapter. Then school started up again, and I stopped.
A year or two went by with no additional work on the novel. Then a friend of mine asked me if I’d like to join her writers’ group. I agreed to try it out and shared my few chapters. With their encouragement, I kept going. Every month we met, and I had a new chapter to share. After a number years (truly, I lost count), I had written the entire novel and had read it to my writers’ group twice.
It was time to attend a writer’s conference and pitch it to editors. My first conference was eye-opening. I realized how much I did NOT know about writing a novel. I also learned that my dream was within reach. I sold a short story to a small, church-based magazine, and after pitching the first ten pages of my novel, two editors asked for the complete manuscript. One was from a new publisher, Leap Books, who catered to teen readers. Soon after that time, my mother developed frontotemporal dementia, and my focus was on her for a few years. I set the manuscript aside. After a while, I decided to attend another writer’s conference, and the editor of Leap was there again. I found myself sitting across from her at lunch one day. She remembered me and my manuscript and was still interested in reading it. I sent it to her, and later she contacted me with a contract.
Maybe I should title this post something different. The novel has yet to be birthed. It’s been conceived, it’s grown, and I guess you could say I’m in labor with it now. I’ll keep you posted on the due date as soon as I know it!
If you’re a writer, what has inspired your work? If you’re not a writer, think about your experiences. You might be as surprised by a story taking shape as I was while sitting at that campsite.
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