Eleven years ago I was blessed with a baby girl. My pregnancy hadn’t been easy, but I won’t complain, others have had far worse. Labor and delivery brought some complications, but again, far worse has happened to others. I was lucky. When my child was born through an emergency C-section, they rushed her out of the delivery room without even letting me see her. She wasn’t placed on my chest for that miraculous moment of bonding, and I was feeling quite sorry for myself. Then they gave me oxygen and I fell asleep. (they told me I would, but I didn’t believe them. How can you fall asleep when you haven’t even seen your baby yet?? Okay, I didn’t sleep LONG…pretty much just until they finished putting me together again) Five hours after she was born, a nurse finally brought my new baby to me. I will never forget how it felt to finally have her in my arms, tears of relief and joy freely flowing.
A few days ago I got to hold another child of mine. My first book. (not my first book, my first to be published). I know how corny it is to compare the two events. I know it’s probably a trite metaphor. The way I see it, the biggest difference between the two is that labor on the second lasted a hell of a lot longer than the first.
My childhood was full of dreams of one day becoming a writer. I was consumed by it. It was all I could ever see wanting. When I was around twelve I remember getting my father to take me to his old childhood home to show me the cellar. I was writing a story and needed to know what a long forgotten cellar smelled like. I wanted to know the temperature of the air and if there were cobwebs. Dad, I’m sure, thought I was daft. After getting home, I remember how thrilling it was to write that passage with the smell of the musty cellar still in my nostrils. I entered my first writing competition when I was in ninth grade. Actually, I didn’t enter it. My English teacher submitted one of my stories without telling me. I was confused when I got a letter explaining I had advanced to the next stage of a contest I hadn’t entered, but she happily explained. I advanced two stages in the competition but didn’t win at the final level. The winning story was amazing. I wish I could remember who wrote it, but I do remember how good it was. That competition was important to me because it showed me that I was actually pretty good at what I loved. I scribbled endlessly with dreams of being a writer, but the truth of it, as my English teacher knew, was that I was not confident in my abilities. I never would have entered a writing contest.
Fast forward some years and life got in the way. I took a couple writing courses as an adult and loved every minute of it, but if I wrote I had to do so at night after my husband was asleep. (aaahhh, the birth of an insomniac) I wrote a few short stories, mostly middle grade fiction. I submitted here and there and gathered my token rejection letters, but writing had gotten too hard. Writing in the night like it was something I had to hide just because someone else belittled me, zapped the joy right out of it. I had a handful of short stories and a couple of really bad books to my credit and had all but given up when a book idea started bouncing around in my head. I began the project, then put it away when I became pregnant. With all the time I spent on bed rest I could have finished the book, but with feeling like last week’s road kill and the constant comments about how I “wasted my time”, I finally packed up my pencils and called it quits.
Funny, writing never let me go completely. I’d have a character flash into my head while cooking dinner and have to write a quick character sketch on a piece of scrap paper. I’d write bits of dialogue on the junk mail. I kept diaries of sorts. I would begin a journal entry just like keeping a regular journal, starting an entry with some feeling or event that had happened, then let my imagination take over and when I was done writing, I would have a completely fictional journal entry. In the journal I took bits of conversation, feelings I had, or places I’d seen turning them into miniature stories of sorts. I suppose writing something felt better than writing nothing at all.
For the past six years I’ve thought a lot about writing. I even managed to finish a few short stories and I have begun a few books. Yes, I said begun. ADHD and follow through with long projects don’t always work hand in hand for me. Now a divorced mom to an emotionally needy child, the challenge to writing wasn’t a husband that I allowed to make me feel insignificant and foolish, but I was just plain tired. Over the past year my daughter has improved by leaps and bounds as far as not being as clingy as before, and we don’t spend hours every day where she is crying, screaming, or trying to harm herself. We can breathe. Both of us. Writing started calling.
Out of the couple of truly awful books I’d written, and the pieces of equally bad books I’d begun, I couldn’t resist the urge to go back to the one I’d given up when I became pregnant. The little girl in that story has been in the back of my mind for twelve years. I know what her smile looks like, I know what she likes to read, I know her innermost secrets. She had become a part of me, and she didn’t like that I had left her in limbo. She needed me to finish her story and put her to rest. I didn’t have high hopes that I could even revive the project. I thought I could put it together for my own satisfaction and be done with it. Soon, however, this little girl took hold of me once again. She told me I needed to tell her story. It became important to me. I was proud of it when it was finished, but sad to see it end. I told my young heroine’s story and then had to walk away and leave her frozen in time to figure out the rest on her own.
I had a few beta readers test out the finished project. They told me after the first chapter they needed to know what happened to this little girl. They said they were even surprised along the way. I was satisfied knowing I had done her justice. Publishing has changed a lot since I first started, and I decided to go ahead with the book as an Indie project. At first I really didn’t think I would publish this particular title, but it’s become important to me. This project symbolizes a lot to me and is something I need to do. It may not be the greatest story ever written. It may not even be my personal best – I hope there is more to come – both juvenile and adult fiction. Still, it is mine and it is a work I’m proud of.
Last week when my proof copy arrived, I held it with trembling hands. After all the years of thinking about this little girl more than I ever have all my other characters combined, she was finally alive. She was real. Now I have to let her go and move on. I think I can. Truman Capote said, “Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it.” I’ve finished books before, some good, some bad, but never have I felt these words to be as true as I do right now.