Right foot, left foot, right foot…keep moving.

As I wade through a sea of dirty floors, bills to be paid, dinner dishes, and a week of long days between now and Spring Break, it’s so easy to lose the plot with writing. After all, inspiration (and energy) sometimes vanish when high schoolers bury me under their personal dramas and intense home situations all day long, my baby cries to me at night because she hates math and is “too hungry to pay attention” by the time lunch rolls around at 1:15, and the cat needs to go to the vet again because he has tumors that require more steroid shots. Sometimes life just gets in the way. And it’s precisely at these moments that writing should be an escape and not a chore, but somehow when I’m mentally and physically depleted, it’s easier (and more fun) to let someone else’s words entertain me. And so I read.

I’ve been a little obsessed lately with the books that amused me in my youth. Remember that feeling of coming home from school with no responsibilities or big decisions to make? That freedom of having no homework to do, when your most pressing concern was how many grilled cheese sandwiches to make before disappearing into your room with a book? I loved the creepy and well-written soft-horror of Lois Duncan, and am currently reading Killing Mr. Griffin simply because it called out to me from my bookshelf at school. And I won’t lie: I’ve considered revisiting Sweet Valley High just for fun, and I even googled a series I remember loving called Sweet Dreams–it was a collection of standalone romances with torrid titles like P.S. I Love You, Summer Breezes, and Programmed for Love. (I think it was the different characters and places in each of these books that made me love a good series with standalone titles, which is part of what I’m loving so much as Holly and I work on our books together.) Sadly, my copies of these favorites were all lost in the Great Waterbed Tragedy of 1989, but I’m sure I could replace that waterlogged, pulpy mess of teenage drama and romance if I really wanted to. I mean, with just a few strategic bids and some last-minute maneuvers, I clobbered my eBay opponent in a war to win the entire catalogue of Babysitters Club novels last spring. And after parting with $75 (and a little of my dignity as one of my TA’s watched in puzzlement as I whooped with joy over winning a box of thirty-year-old girls’ books) I became the proud owner of a classic series. Er, I mean Holly became the proud owner of all of the Babysitters Club books. (Duh. Of course they were for her–I mean, obviously!)

But honestly, I have no shame about what I read. Good books don’t have to be secret guilty pleasures like the embarrassing music you hide on your iPod (hello, entire Aha and Debbie Gibson catalogues–I’m talking about you!) So now, with pride, I’m going to go polish off Killing Mr. Griffin on this rainy Saturday afternoon. And then we’ll write.

How We Write.

Writing in a partnership is a roller coaster. I find that sometimes it makes the whole process more exciting, like when you have an idea that you share with the other person, and you both end up shouting, “YES! That’s perfect!” and falling all over each other with praise. Other times it can be challenging: you’re in the flow of writing, and the other person has something to add that brings the whole thing to a screeching halt. Or you don’t agree on something fundamental, which means you have to talk it through–something you don’t have to do while working alone. But the feeling of doing something together is incomparable.

The way we write is especially sweet for me: Holly is our idea guru, and I bring the ideas to life. For instance, when we start something, we come up with a theme for the book, then we talk about characters, scenes, locations, etc. (Can you imagine how proud a mother who majored in English is when she listens to her 11-year old debate the merits of realistic versus science fiction? When she starts kicking around terms like ‘universal themes’?) From there, she goes bananas–she researches, finds pictures and maps, and then she creates a slideshow for us that serves as inspiration as we go forward. She did one just this morning for our new project that was set to music and included a picture of what she thinks every character in our book should look like.

Next, we sit down together, side-by-side. (This is my favorite part.) Sometimes we work on the couch, other times we lean against a big pile of pillows on her bedroom floor. And if the weather is nice, we head out to the backyard to work in our little casita, surrounded by pink walls, inspiration boards, my collection of rabbits and cardinals (stuffed, wooden, and porcelain), the sunlight streaming through the miniature windows with their cheery pink and white checked curtains. Then she leans her shoulder against mine or puts her head on my arm as I write so that she can read every word as I’m typing. That means she can stop me when I use a word that’s ridiculously out of character for our heroine, or when I need input on something “cool” or “young” to keep our heroine living in the 21st century. But in the end, I know that no matter what–whether we’re successful at this endeavor, or whether it’s just a fun hobby–I’ll never forget the times we spent together, lost in the process, her soft, fragrant head on my shoulder, easily within kissing distance.

Because that’s just how we write.

Our manuscript is out there!

We finished the first run-through of our manuscript and sent it to three people this weekend, so now we just (im)patiently wait for feedback. I know the best thing to do during this rush of “we just finished a NOVEL!” adrenaline is move on to our next manuscript and keep the creativity flowing, so that’s what we’ll do.

The original idea for this series that we’re working on stemmed from Holly’s love of the American Girl books, and a unit at school last year that introduced her to pioneer girls and their diaries. After talking through what she wanted to write, we came up with an idea for the this series. Each book will be a standalone novel about a young girl who comes to America and lives her own version of the American Dream. Because each protagonist will come from a different country, it gives us the opportunity to research and learn about other parts of the world and other languages, and it also allows us to give some thought to what it’s like to be an outsider, a newcomer, a person who is striving for something and overcoming obstacles. Using fiction to understand life isn’t a new technique by any stretch, and while I know it will benefit Holly as she goes into middle school next year and broadens her own horizons, I figure it can’t hurt me to be reminded that everyone’s struggles are real.

Book 1 is about a girl named Iris from Holland (we’ll get back to her as soon as our first reader reviews come in from my parents and some trusted friends), but in the mean time, we’re starting to think about Book 2. Who will our main character be? Where will she come from and to which state will she go? Letting your characters come to life as you research them is an exciting stage of writing, and one we both enjoyed immensely the first time around. So here we go with a whole new set of characters and themes and places: let the games begin!

“Let’s write a novel,” she says.

My darling girl and I set off on this mission last summer–the first day of summer break, in fact–after she’d come up with an idea for a story that she wanted to write. As we kicked it around, the idea turned into a game plan to write a whole series, so we got to work. All through the long summer (long when you’re a ten-year old, far too short when you’re a high school teacher) we sat together on our deck or in our “writing room”, side-by-side, mapping out our story and then executing our scenes and dialogue. By the time school started we were 20,000 words into it, and we’ve just wrapped things up at 47,000 words. This seems short to me, as I’ve been writing longer manuscripts for years, but we put in our due diligence, did our research, and came up with a range of 40-50,000 words for a middle grade book. What’s left now is to tinker with page one and to give all of our chapters clever titles (our favorite chapter title so far is called “The Peanut Butter and Skelly Incident”–you’ll have to read it…trust me, it makes sense!) and then we’ll send it out to a handful of family and friends for feedback so that we can edit the whole manuscript. I’ve been through the query process a number of times, so I’m rubbing my hands together in anticipation, ready to get our baby out into the world and see what happens, but my girl has jumped right ahead to the “when we’re famous authors…” stage. She is ready to do the work–I’ll give her that: she cut a play-date short by two hours last night so she could get home and work on our story, and she has all the enthusiasm, zeal, and confidence that it takes to make it as an author. I haven’t had the heart to tell her yet that she’ll need all of that confidence in her reserves during the query/wait/rejection cycle, but maybe I should try on her confident attitude for size. Okay, here I go: “This is going to be SO. MUCH. FUN. when we’re famous authors!”