With Mother’s Day just around the corner–yeah if any of you have forgotten, go rush to the Hallmark Store this morning to pick over the leftover dreck in the card selection–quite a few folks are talking about moms and parents in their posts today. Alex Sokoloff over at Murderati wrote up a great post about the gift her mother gave her (and the concerns her parents had–as all parents do–about her going into the arts). Cody Goodfellow has another over at Storytellers Unplugged, and before the day is out, I’m sure there will be others–so I figured I would jump on the bandwagon.
When it comes to my writing, I typically don’t think of my parents at all, and when I do, it is often in a negative context. I’ve been writing since I was 12–first, copious scrawls in spiral bound notebooks, then on the ancient Wang desktop computer (with a 20 MB hard drive–my laptop presently has 250 gig…WOW how technology has changed). Through high school I was prolific, staying up well after hours, lost in my own worlds. My parents are both obnoxious morning people (to those of us who are not morning people, anyone who is perky, manic, or generally cheery upon waking should be shot), and they both loved to give me the laundry list of what all they had done while I was sleeping in on Saturday morning. By my sophomore year in high school, I was finally able to shoot back “Well, I wrote a novel while you were asleep.” I think they saw it as a mildly interesting hobby. They assumed I was good at it both because I was bright and because my teachers told them so–but neither had any real inclination to find out for themselves, which wasn’t a problem, as I wasn’t looking for their approval of what I was doing. No, they didn’t rouse themselves to do or say anything about my writing until I was about to leave for college and declared I wanted to go into journalism. That got their attention and a lengthy campaign about why it was an impractical and poor choice of career. To this day, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed journalism or not–fiction has always been my passion, so perhaps their campaign, though for misguided reasons, was a service. I wound up with a scholarship for a different major entirely and never walked down the journalism path. And as far as they were both concerned, that was the end of that.
Over the years I have been several rounds with my mother about my work on various levels. It’s always my mother because my dad has never really been involved on that level. For the most part, she hasn’t been allowed to read it since that fateful 9th grade English class essay “Me And My Temper”–a tongue in cheek paper that everyone found funny except for her–her response was to ask if I’d like to see a therapist because she thought that I was a miserable child. Um, no. Sometime in high school, she read the opening chapters to the YA supernatural thriller I was working on and her only comment was “Where are the parents?” (I consider it a mark of my adulthood that the same thought occurs to me now when I write YA–despite the temptation to have orphans or strangely independent teens as characters, they do not live in a vacuum. But shhhhh! Don’t tell her that!). When I finished the last draft of HOC last fall and my mother in law was ecstatic and prepared to hand-sell a copy to every single person who came into her shop, my own mother never asked to read it, never offered congratulations, and instead wanted to know why I had to write about sex–as if the 2 or 3 love scenes were the sum of the entire story. If you had asked me, before that conversation, whether I really cared what my mother thought about my work, I would have said no. But given how incredibly angry I got over it, apparently I do care quite a bit. I suppose deep down there is a sense that she is my mother, ergo she is supposed to support me and think whatever I do is great. Even if I absolutely stunk as a writer, she’s supposed to be supportive. The fact that I don’t suck is not the point.
I’ve gone a little tangential here, and it may sound like my parents haven’t given me anything as a writer. That’s actually not the case. The thing that they instilled in me practically from birth, is the belief that I can do anything and do it well. God gifted me with a good brain, and by damn I used it through school, racking up academic accolades. I continue to use it now, though in a different way than they would prefer. I was taught that if you work hard in high school you get scholarships (I did). That if you worked hard in college you got a good job, hands down (I didn’t, but that’s a story for another day). They also fostered (intentionally or not) an unwavering independence. I go my own way and do my own thing–they didn’t think psychology was a practical career either. They’d have preferred I go into something else, like business or accounting or medicine or law–the thought of which makes me positively glaze over with boredom. But it’s that independence that keeps me going. I would love to get published. I would love for my parents to be ecstatic about what I write. But ultimately I’m not writing for them or for publication. I’m writing for myself–and that, I think, is their greatest gift.
In high school, I was infatuated with Gone with the Wind and decided I was going to write my own version–except in mine, the South won. I researched battles and had picked exactly when the tide would turn, and how, it would be possible. Started writing with an annoying Scarlett type heroine. I plunked away on an old manual typewriter over the summer vacation and made the mistake of letting my mom read the first chapter.
I can’t remember the entire set up now, but the heroine said something like “You ruint my dress.” (dresses were very important, you know). My Mom cackled. I mean, this was like fall on the floor and roll around laughter because I’d used “ruint.”
I put the story away. Never worked on it again. Never told anyone that I was writing again for years. Even That Man didn’t really pay attention, because I only did it very late at night, in secret, and not consistently. Only when my sister had the courage to tell me that SHE had finished a novel, did I get the courage to say, you know what? I’ve been writing too. And I haven’t finished anything… yet. That was 5 years ago this September.