My 10th child

Yesterday a delivery arrived–one that I’d been waiting for, for more than four years now–and once I lugged it into the house I couldn’t bear to open it.

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It was, what I’m now starting to think of it as, my 10th baby.
I have nine children (yeah, really–all birthed by me, no twins), but the amount of effort and sleepless nights I’ve put into the Forest at the Edge book series feels very much like another child.
And yesterday it arrived. And, just like my human babies, I happily cradled the bundle handed to me, but didn’t dare inspect it. Because . . . what if something is seriously wrong?
What if this amazing little thing isn’t as perfect as the doctor proclaimed, but has three nostrils?
Or a large birthmark on its neck like I do?
Or . . . looks more like me than like my hunky husband?

And it’d always be my husband who’d take our newborn out of my arms and start to unwrap the impossible blankets. “Let’s see what we have here!” he’d say cheerily, while I clenched my hands by my face and worried that my sweet darling would have some defect that would cause him or her heartache, and that I wouldn’t know how to alleviate that pain.

Yes there were birthmarks–cute ones, on the tuchus or the bottom of a foot–and there were minor oddities and bizarre flexibility that, as my children grow older, proudly demonstrate to squeamish by-standers. But all in all the baby was pretty darned good.

I needed my husband again yesterday.
He saw the box on our bed and, always eager to open a package, asked, “Ooh–what’s this?”
“My books,” I whimpered.
“Open it!”
“I can’t!”
What if something was horribly wrong with them? I already knew of a couple formatting glitches I can’t seem to work out, and a few typos despite my going through it 30+ times . . . but what if there was something far worse?
I couldn’t bear it.
“I’ll open it,” my husband decided.
“No! Yes! I don’t know–”
He already had out his keys and slashed the tape. Then he opened the box and looked.

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Cringing so hard my cheeks hurt, I asked, “Well?!”
Slowly he nodded. “Look pretty good to me.” He was reading the back cover of one of the books, still nodding. “Do you want it?”

Do I want my 10th baby? The actual paper copies of the books I’ve been writing since early 2009? (Actually, since it’s two books, maybe my 10th and 11th?)

I held out my hand nervously . . . then sighed in relief as he gave me Forest and Soldier. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Then, just as I did with my babies, I suddenly wanted to show them everything in the world. And, just like my babies, I started taking pictures.

First, I introduced them to my hero and mentor, Terry Pratchett. Don’t they look cute on the shelf together?

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Then I introduced them to the bathroom, which is always a good place to know in a new house. Top of the tank, for your reading pleasure.

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Then, the bathtub–waiting for me to actually dare take them near water–

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Oh no! They fell in!
Oh, there’s not water.
Silly Forest and Soldier!

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They also liked the baby swing in the backyard. Hold on, boys!

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Then it was time to have a tea party with their friends . . .

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And at this point I began to think, Maybe this is a bit silly?
I mean, seriously–would books really have a tea party with themselves?

Of course not.
They’d have a tea party with OTHER books!
So I introduced Forest and Soldier (they were pretty uncomfortable at this point, but already they have some sense of propriety so they soldiered on) to my other three inspirations; women who demonstrated that even “regular moms” can create books, and they unwittingly dared me to write: Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George, and Joanne (J.K.) Rowling. (The books all want to have a sleepover later. With popcorn. But I just vacuumed, so I’ll have to think about it.)

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(I’ve met two of these authors, and bashfully said nothing about how they inspired me.
But some day I will. )

Finally I brought Forest and Soldier back to where they were conceived–my computer. On the screen is a list of the current drafts I have of the entire series (my file of past drafts is immense) and I showed them where they began. I’m going to save this picture as motivation; I’ve done it twice before, so I can do it six or seven more times to bring to life the entire family/series.

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And then, I put Forest and Soldier back into the box.
Not because I’m still overwhelmed or anything by being a real mom, I mean, author.

Just because it’s nap time.

“An author is speaking clearly and silently in your head, directly to you.”

Until I read this beautiful quote from Carl Sagan (thank you, Grammarly), I didn’t know how to articulate the sensation I’ve felt that I’ve snuck into a writer’s mind, and was welcomed there. But as I thought about it, I realized I’ve “experienced” a variety of authors in such a manner. Tell me if you’ve had similar impressions with these or other authors:

Plato: I approached his writing hesitantly, researching background about ancient civilizations, when about two paragraphs into the chapter I felt as if Plato himself had come into the room to have a chat. In my mind he was a small, narrow-bodied man wearing a white tunic and sitting on plain stool. He smiled as if glad to see someone else was coming “in” for a visit, and he wanted to help. He pointed out sections, waved for me to skip other parts, and cheerfully gestured to a chapter he knew I’d particularly enjoy. Then he sat back and smiled as I read, waiting to answer questions he’s known the answers to for thousands of years.

 J.K. Rowling: Reading her feels like a group activity, a sense of sitting on the floor on comfy cushions (a la the Room of Requirement) with about a dozen others of all ages and sizes—and no one cares that we seem too old to do this—while our friend Jo sits on a soft chair, but at the very edge of it, reading to us her stories and getting all of the voices just right.

James Joyce: I’ve wandered a few times into Mrs. Dalloway to find Mr. Joyce sitting in the corner rattling on and on, only distantly recognizing I was there as he gestured to the wall and talked to the ceiling, until I quietly slinked out again and closed the door. I don’t think he ever noticed.

Hugh Nibley: This scholar and philosopher stands at a podium in a lecture hall, while I sit near the back frantically taking notes as he reads his words at break-neck speed. But I have a remote control, and every minute I zap him to pause his lecture, rewind, listen, then flip to the extensive footnotes while Professor Nibley waits, just on this side of patient. I bite my lip as I read the footnote, realize it introduces yet more names and archaic traditions I’ve never heard before, so I shrug, occasionally write down a reference to Google later, then hit “play” again, pretending all the while that even though I just sit on the surface of his topic, I understand the depths to which he’s diving. We both know I can barely tread water.

Flannery O’Connor: She tells me her stories as we wash dishes in the back kitchen of a large southern plantation home, and we snigger when the ladies with fancy hats walk past the window.

Shannon Hale: She tells me her stories as we drove up through the canyons in a big SUV to take the teenage girls from our church on a camping trip, because I met her at a book signing where she told me she also loves Terry Pratchett, and I knew right then we could be great friends.

J.R.R. Tolkien: He sits behind a grand desk, leaning back leisurely and gestures to maps on his walls and charts on the desk, while talking in an oddly lilting monotone about details and histories and peoples I’m not quite following until I fall asleep. Guiltily I shake myself awake a moment later, only to realize he never noticed I nodded off—he’s enjoying himself far too much. My daughters, however, glare at me in disgust.

Stephen King: Because he starts his stories by turning out all the lights, then shining a flashlight in his face, I slam shut the book just as he opens his mouth to speak, and I move on.

Lao Tzu: He’s a sweet, gentle man, forcing me to sit in an expanse of sand while he teaches me his verses of philosophy. Much like Oogway in “Kung Fu Panda,” he speaks slowly and repeats himself until he sees a light of understanding come in my eyes. Then he hands me a peach, and recites me another couplet about war, and fighting, and peace, and knowing.

Jane Austen: We sit primly in her parlor, with arms folded just so and skirts adjusted in just this way, and glance furtively at the door for someone wonderful or dreadful to come through it, while she tells me all the news of the town as quickly as she can before either of our mothers can interrupt us.

Jessica Day George: We sit in the back of some dull meeting gossiping quietly and giggling, hoping no one hears us, but knowing the speaker is glaring right at us.

Orson Scott Card: I actually sat in two meetings with him! At a small private college in Virginia! But I never spoke to him! And he never noticed me! And when I finally read Ender’s Game, I felt as if I was huddled in the corner of that classroom with his book, and he was watching me out of the corner of his eye as if to say, “It’s about time.”

PHOTO MISSING,

TO PROTECT THESE  NEXT TWO AUTHORS FROM SCORN                               

(because I’m sure they’re both just as lovely as can be, but create utter drivel)

Authors who will remain anonymous, but have a fondness for writing about males that turn into animals and woo silly teenage females: I gritted my teeth and cringed through these authors first books, as if I was stuck on a long bus ride behind two chatting women telling each other far too many details about their fantasy love lives. I closed my eyes periodically hoping to avoid gooey passages, only to run into other sections that not only made my eyes roll but caused me involuntary gagging. I got off the bus at the earliest possible moment.

Terry Pratchett: My all-time favorite author who I visit frequently. He lets me right into his mind, which is most intimidating and most marvelous. Every time I want to turn left, he shifts me to go right; I look down, he points me up, and I sigh and wish I could think of such turns. He takes characters, sets them in front of me, then describes them in such terms that I despair, because I’ll never come close to writing like that. But he just chuckles, grabs my arm, and drags me to yet another amazing place until suddenly I stop and say, “I just had an idea . . .” To which he smiles and waves good-bye until I come back again, because it’s not about being better than him, or even as good as him, but about discovering what I want to say.