I started reading The Boxcar Children series and all nine Little House books as a young child and have never parted with books since. I started writing about a half-million books then, too: “Rebecca Rose-Caroline” and her series of page-long adventures (inspired by books like Dear America and American Girl), the horsey mystery stories whose plots never found a climax and whose enigmas remained unsolved, and, as I grew older, first chapters of historical fiction novels, attempts at fantasy stories, and failed contemporary fiction ideas.
So much failure, so much lack of complete ideas.
And then I remembered a story I had written when I was twelve years old, one that I made my sister read at that time. It told the somber tale of a girl whose close family member perished in the sea, and she stood alone at the shore, gazing at the fateful entity of water, brooding on the wonderful life she had led until that wretched event.
My sister said she wanted to find out what happened next–that it could be a book. Like all my stories, however, it had no middle, no ending. But the scene simmered in my mind’s creative kettle.
During my freshman year of college, I wrote another ‘book,’ but this time it had to do with a girl who lived in my hometown of Bozeman, Montana, and who suffered the unrealistic tragedy of having a fire burn her house down–with her parents in it–while she slept soundly at a friend’s house for a sleepover. The girl then went to Florida to try to find her Cuban relatives and, in the process of the journey, to heal. I wrote 160,000 words on that one without getting anywhere valuable.
A year later, I decided to write a manuscript for upper-middle-grade readers for my Honors program’s scholarship project. Most Honors students focus on research-based projects, but I felt the need to write about that girl I had imagined when I was twelve–the one who stood at the sea and stared. I declared myself too advanced to write an outline and sat reluctantly at my desk each morning with a coffee and a biscotti, dreading the process of figuring out what to write next. I did finish that draft–set in a coastal Washington town–even though it was horrid and I knew it.
Between then and this past December, I took two writing classes as part of my English major that transformed the way I choose words and organize snatches of creativity. I also discovered that I had to stay true to myself in my writing. I spent my most formative years in Montana, and that state’s air runs through my blood.
And so I drastically revised the plot. I bought a small green journal and tucked it in my purse like many great authors advise writers to do, and to my surprise, I found inspiration in the smallest things: wisps of hay falling off a bale-burdened truck, pieces of chopped wood against a house, the thoughts that danced through my head during dull school lectures.
I wrote a lengthy outline. I nervously asked my English professors and Honors project advisors if they thought my idea was any good. I procured first readers. And I committed myself to writing two chapters of seven to ten pages every single morning except Saturday.
I am halfway through my manuscript’s fourteenth chapter, and I have sixteen total in my outline. I no longer drag myself to my desk with dread tolling through my resistant typing fingers: I pop out of bed at 5:30 each morning and rush to my laptop with salivating joy (maybe that’s a tiny exaggeration). I have always known that writing was fun and reading was life, but now I have discovered writing has swooped up there next to reading: I love it. My manuscript’s characters, Polly and Wardie, are always hanging out in my head, developing as people and entertaining my thoughts. I don’t know what I will do when I finish the manuscript (oh, wait–I will revise! Even after I turn the manuscript in for the Honors project, I will revise, revise, revise).
The manuscript is entitled And the Blackbirds Mock, and the logline–or elevator pitch, or blurb, or whatever you wish to call it–is below:
Best friends Polly Peter and Wardie Mason have led mostly-contented lives throughout their grade school years in their Montana town, but everything changes the day tragedy shatters the Grayling Crossing community and only Polly knows exactly what happened. The ensuing grief interrupts Wardie’s search for answers about his father, and he and Polly fight their sorrow in ways that push them apart. Both must grapple with the questions the community asks—spoken and unspoken—that threaten to keep them from living their lives the way they always imagined they would.
We’ll see what happens with Blackbird, which is what I lovingly call the manuscript because it’s too hard to say the title I came up with every single time. I won’t be able to post much until I graduate (in 36 days!), and I am supposed to be hard at work on a piece of art for my handmade books class–which, as I painfully discovered, has less to do with books as I know them and tons to do with drawing and painting, about which I know nothing.
Welcome to Blogging Blackbird, my first attempt at a blog, in which I will write about writing.