Evolution of a Story (and Me)

It was around the beginning of November when it first occurred to me to write a story for my older son with him as the main character.  I imagined writing this story and giving it to him for Christmas.  I pictured his smile as he saw his name on the pages of the ‘book.’ 

Then I came back to reality:  I’m not a middle-grade, or even a young adult writer.  I write mysteries and fiction for adults.  Even when I reminded myself of this, I couldn’t abandon the idea.  I knew the story had to have a scorpion in it, because he loves scorpions.  So, I started taking notes as he talked about friends at school, what he did at recess and began a rough outline for the story.

As my stories usually go, I started out using the outline, but then the story veered off path.  I became more excited about this story.  Instead of a simple mystery about a missing scorpion keychain (that he has on the zipper of his backpack), it became more of a spiritual story with paranormal elements.  I worked on it nearly every day, and finally completed it the week before Christmas.  I made up a simple cover, and even the ‘jacket’ blurb on the back flap, just like a real book.

Cover of Story I Wrote for My Son

The interesting thing is, that life played an important part in the core of the story – a part that wasn’t anywhere on my initial outline.  Two days before Thanksgiving, my grandma passed away.  Being eight, my older son knows what death is, but he wouldn’t talk about his feelings, and seemed embarrassed to cry about it.  In the story, my son was able to cry and confront his grief, and in a dream, ‘talk’ to his great-grandparents, who let him know they are watching over him, and are taking care of Charlie (his Betta fish that died earlier this year.)

I read the forty-five page story to him and he liked it so much, he wanted me to read it to him again right away.  I did get to see his smile as he saw his name in the book.  He read a few pages out loud and my husband commented that it sounded like my son was really telling the story (he was – it was in first person.  The mind of an eight year old is a scary place!)

This project was a departure from my normal writing, but it was a labor of love.  I have to say, his reaction to the story is the best review that I think I will ever have.  It affirms that I can tell a story that someone else can enjoy.  And it makes the query rejections (or non-responses) for my first novel feel like…nothing. 

I have also evolved; much like the story I wrote.  I’ve spent the better part of 2010 obsessing over my first novel; the edits, the revisions, the synopsis, the query letter.  As the year closes, I’m starting to accept that my novel may not fit in the mainstream.  It may not be naughty enough, shocking enough or cutting edge.  Maybe I’m not meant to be commercially published; maybe I’m supposed to do just what I’m doing now.  I don’t know, but I’ll keep my heart open and will go where my prayers lead me.

Have  you come to any realizations about your writing, or life, as you reflect upon 2010?

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24 thoughts on “Evolution of a Story (and Me)

  1. nrhatch December 29, 2010 / 8:23 PM

    That is so cool!!!

    I love that you wrote him a story and that he enjoyed it so much. What a wonderful Christmas present ~ to you and to him!

    As far as your writing goes . . . in uncertainty lies all possibility.

    Write on!

    • jannatwrites December 29, 2010 / 9:11 PM

      Thanks, Nancy! Several months ago, when I was working on Kharma’s Way, he wanted to know what I was doing, so I read him some of the dialogue. His eyes got wide and he asked me, “did you write that all by yourself?” I figured he wasn’t THAT hard to impress, so it wasn’t too much of a risk 😉

      I like that – uncertainty does hold possibility. So true…

  2. Aligaeta December 29, 2010 / 8:50 PM

    I love your gift to him! How sweet to write this story. The conversation with his great-grandparents taking care of Charlie in heaven sounds perfect for working through grief. Now, that’s putting your talent as a writer and your psych background to good work.

    Writing to market is a whole other story. Even the best of writers have difficulty selling their first novels, John Grisham couldn’t publish “A Time to Kill” until after the “Firm” and multiple rewrites of Chapter 1. The child’s attack. Perseverance, Janna.

    Either compromise your story to market, continue searching, or simply write for the love of writing.

    • jannatwrites December 29, 2010 / 9:19 PM

      It was fun to write the story – a new challenge of sorts. I hadn’t thought of it, but I guess you’re right about the psych background…I almost forget that I have that 🙂

      When I set out to write, I write a story I would want to read. Whether or not others would – I don’t know. If an agent/editor wanted me to change things in the story, I would listen to the request, but I have a short list of things I will not do…and if it means the deal is off, then that’s how it will have to be. Earlier this year, I couldn’t have accepted that, but now, it’s okay. I’ll keep writing and searching anyway.

  3. Tim Weaver December 29, 2010 / 8:51 PM

    I realize that business writing is so much easier than fiction.

    • jannatwrites December 29, 2010 / 9:22 PM

      I hear you. Business writing only requires that the text be intelligible. The subject presents itself and you write about it – you don’t have to make up twists in a plot line, be witty, or psych yourself out by attempting to be the next literary great.

      But fiction is so much more fun…that counts for something.

      • Tim Weaver December 30, 2010 / 10:02 PM

        Having read other people’s business writing, putting together intelligible reports is a lot harder than you might imagine, especially if you’re writing for a busy CEO and have to edit edit edit it down. I took a 30 page report and edited down to about 18 pages and kept everything that needed keeping, then created a 1.5 page executive brief. The CEO was very appreciative. 🙂

        • jannatwrites December 30, 2010 / 10:59 PM

          Yep.

          (How’s that for brief?)

  4. J. P. Cabit December 30, 2010 / 8:07 AM

    “It may not be naughty enough, shocking enough or cutting edge.” Doesn’t it feel like this is what you need sometimes to get “into” the publishing world? 😡

    No great epiphanies for the Cabit, but I have come to realize my potential in bad poetry. That has been one of my greatest writing “Perks” of the whole year, besides learning what a rejection letter looks like. 😦

    • jannatwrites December 30, 2010 / 7:27 PM

      I’m glad you’ve found your niche (bad poetry). Everyone has to be bad at something, right? It may as well be something you enjoy!

  5. Carol Ann Hoel December 30, 2010 / 8:42 AM

    What a sweet gesture to write a story for your eight-year-old son. You are the perfect person to write for him. You know him better than others.

    My writing? I’m still getting the bugs out of my novel. Oh, when will it finally be ready? I would like to finish it. If it is never published, well, that’s out of my hands. Finishing. I want to do that much in Year 2011. Blessings to you…

    • jannatwrites December 30, 2010 / 7:34 PM

      Thank you, Carol. He did correct me about a few minor details in the story, though. I found out he would’ve picked ‘mystery nuggets’ for lunch instead of pizza and his friend’s sister is in 7th grade, not 10th (I didn’t even know he had a sister at all, so I give myself credit for the lucky guess.)

      It’s true that publishing is out of our hands. That’s something I’m only beginning to grasp, so you’re ahead of the game there. I wish you the best as you finish that novel 🙂

  6. suzicate December 30, 2010 / 3:40 PM

    What a beautiful gift, children love being the star of the story! Glad you had a lovely Christmas!

    • jannatwrites December 30, 2010 / 7:37 PM

      He really liked the parts about his ‘annoying little brother.’ Of course, of all the elements in the book, that’s what he latched on to 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by, Suzicate!

  7. chlost December 30, 2010 / 11:50 PM

    Great gift. Has he asked about a sequel? He will remember this his whole life. My mom used to make up little songs about our family. I have started to do it for my granddaughters.

    • jannatwrites December 31, 2010 / 5:21 PM

      Ha! Luckily he hasn’t asked for a sequel – I wouldn’t know what to write. But if he does, I won’t worry about it because if it’s supposed to be written then it will come to me eventually. I’ve changed the words of songs for my kids too – they love that. This Old Man and Old McDonald had a farm are the two I’ve messed with the most (my apologies to the original songwriters 🙂 ) I’m sure your granddaughters will love the songs you make up and make it a tradition that they pass on to their children. Nice 🙂

  8. Brown Eyed Mystic December 31, 2010 / 12:34 AM

    I always love your creative tidbits Janna, but this is indeed the loveliest Christmas gift I know of. I agree with other commenters. Super-awesome of you to take the effort and enrich the relationship between you and your family. Isn’t this the spirit of Christmas really about? It is. And you are a rockstar, like I always say 🙂

    Love,
    BrownEyed

    • jannatwrites December 31, 2010 / 5:25 PM

      Thanks, BrownEyed. It almost doesn’t seem like a gift because I had so much fun writing it (and it’s more practice with writing, which is an added benefit.)

      Rockstar, huh? If being a ‘rockstar’ is having a group of supportive (and talented) people that read what I write because they want to (I still can’t believe that!) then I guess I could be one 🙂 I hope you had a wonderful Christmas.

  9. Amanda Hoving December 31, 2010 / 9:34 AM

    What a lovely story — and a book that I’m sure your son will treasure forever.

    I don’t think any writer needs to be pigeon-holed, so good on you for writing outside of your comfort zone.

    • jannatwrites December 31, 2010 / 5:28 PM

      Being pigeon-holed is not a good thing. I’m hoping that with practice, my comfort zone will grow. We’ll see. Thanks for your comment!

  10. crumbl January 16, 2011 / 3:06 AM

    I’ve spent too much of my life writing business oriented content and I agree with Mr. Weaver … it ain’t as easy as it may seem.

    My comfort zone is prose. My wife adores that (and heaven help me if I miss an opportunity to do so) I write her little poems. One or two stanzas is enough to please her enormously. Of course, now I’ve raised the bar, and believe me, she never lets me forget that I didn’t deliver should I forget.

    Words have magic. Words have power and beauty. Even if no one reads them but you, your son, your friends … commit to them, and don’t be afraid to follow wherever they may lead. The journey on which they may take you will be rewarding in and of itself.

    • jannatwrites January 17, 2011 / 12:03 AM

      Ha! Let me guess, you wrote her poetry when you dated? You know, once you do that you’re on the hook for the rest of your life!

      Words are magic, and they are powerful. Of course, I would like my words to be read by many, but am content if they are appreciated by a few. (Several people read the story for my son and said they enjoyed it.)

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂

  11. Keshav Ram Narla January 21, 2011 / 1:57 AM

    I’m trying to work on my own love story to present to my sweetheart, unfortunately after the initial outburst of creativity things came to a halt. Life/Job gets in the way. But reading your story as renewed my spirit, I’ll start on it again. Hopefully I’ll finish the first part before we get married in another month or two, will be a surprise gift (don’t tell her).

    BTW I would love to read “Legends of Scorpion” and not just because I’m a scorpio (sun sign) 🙂

    • jannatwrites January 21, 2011 / 8:13 PM

      Oh, that story will be sweet, I’m sure. You must finish it! And don’t worry, I won’t say a word…your secret’s safe with me 😉

      I thought about posting it (with names changed, because my son was the main character), but it was the first story for that age group, so it’s probably not any good. My only goal was for him to see himself in a story. I thought nothing about publication or widespread sharing – which was liberating.

      I hope you do finish the story before the wedding because it would be such a beautiful surprise that she would cherish forever.

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