You can learn a lot by watching other people, by asking questions, by reading, but nothing takes the place of experience. When I began writing Mother of My Son, my husband and I hadn’t fully struggled with infertility yet, and adoption wasn’t even a blink on our radar. Yet these were themes I felt compelled to explore. Like I said in my last post, however, life got crazy and I stopped writing.
After adopting our precious baby girl from China in 2005 (an experience so vast and complicated and heartbreaking and wonderful I can only write about it in manageable pieces), after not looking at my manuscript for almost three years (I did the math since my last post!) I brushed it off and read it with fresh eyes. Did it need work? Oh yes. Was it redeemable? I thought so. Some of the scenes lacked heart, depth. At times my characters acted implausibly and if I their creator didn’t believe them, who would?
I didn’t talk much about it but I rolled up my sleeves and went to work, equipped with clarity that comes from shelving a project for so long, and experience. Bits of my life seeped into the story… things like the way my stomach knotted up when I got invited to a baby shower when I all I wanted was another baby. Or the bombardment of emotions I felt when I first held my second child—a child not from my flesh but one we prayed and prayed for. The throb of grief when my child asks me questions about her birth mom and I don’t have all the answers, the details, she longs for. Some of my characters are further removed from me; I have not walked in their shoes. So I got really quiet and listened to them. (You may think me a wacko, but if you listen hard and long enough, your characters do speak to you.)
With all of these emotions, these failures, these joys, I began to rework my story, letting experience flavor scenes and flesh out my characters. Mother of My Son is not autobiographical but it does contain a big chunk of my heart.
Life carried on. My children grew, and I kept writing. I won a contest. I lost a contest. I got a rejection letter from my favorite publisher. I got a rejection letter from an agent. Then another one. I quit. A week later, I un-quit. I studied my favorite authors. I prayed. I sought feedback. I whined to my husband that this time I was going to quit for good. Didn’t he think that’s what I should do? Quit? No, he said to my great relief. Don’t quit. I gratefully received scholarships to go to two more conferences where, among other things, I learned that my story really started at chapter three. So I took a deep breath and cut the first two chapters, two chapters I loved. Two chapters I had revised, rewritten, and gone over with a fine-tooth comb about thirty times. No exaggeration. In time I would cut, or completely rewrite dozens of other chapters. If that’s what it took to ready it for publication, that’s what I’d do. Whatever it took. A hard truth to accept but such is writing.
Another hard truth was beginning to seep in: in the grand scheme of things, what did it really matter if my name ever graced the cover of a book? It was my goal—and a good one at that—but not a promise from God. You know that State Farm Insurance commercial with the song “Hold on tight to your dreams”? Well, I might have been holding on a little too tightly, letting my aspirations get the best of me. And I didn’t want to be consumed with this crazy pipedream and get stuck in the what ifs and if onlys. I didn’t want to miss out on moments of my life while I was pining away for something that might never be.
The thing with writing for publication is that there’s no guarantee, and I loathe the idea of wasting time. Anytime we played Balderdash we used cut up scraps from various drafts of my book and I began to wonder if this was as far as my book would go- the inside of our scrap drawer. Maybe I was “only” supposed to write for my church, my community, and magazines. And if so, would that be enough?
I did not arrive there easily but yes, it would be enough. If that’s what God had for me, and no more, it would be enough. I pressed in harder to the Author of all grace and unclenched my fist.
And yet at the same time, I didn’t feel compelled to give up on the story, to stop writing. In fact, I felt many nudges forward. So I continued writing, continued improving, continued to send my proposal to various publishing houses and agents. Continued to get rejections and seek feedback.
I learned how to hold the dream loosely and move forward.
And then one day, three months after contacting Pelican Book Group, I got a sweet yes. Yes, they would like to publish my book.
It’s sweet to partner with editors who truly care about your story and see things you, as the writer, have missed. It’s sweet to be at a place of excitement but not obsession. By God’s grace that’s where I am. I’m excited. Pleased as punch. A little overwhelmed, too, because now there’s even more work, more revisions, not to mention these goofy things called deadlines. But after what felt like a hailstorm of nos, basking in the light of the yes is sweet.
I love my story. I hope you will too. But I’m holding it loosely.
I’ll leave you with the back cover teaser: A desperate college girl abandons her newborn son and years later befriends his adoptive mother— yet neither knows the truth.
(Mother of My Son- will be released by Harbourlight, an imprint of Pelican Book Group)