Then I sit down to write, and discover that I have almost everything.
I have a series of events, an anecdote. That magic thread that weaves the events into a story, isn't there. That magic thread is theme, the heart that drives the story.
Such was the case with A TREE FOR EMMY.
My daughter Lily's first real friend, Emme, lived across the street. As pre-school BFF's they shared a love of anything pink, stomping through mud puddles and flowers (especially pink ones.) Emme's mother was an easy going woman who allowed the girls to dig and plant in her yard.
Because Emme and Lily loved wildflowers, dandelions, wild daisies and Queen Anne's lace had free reign in the yard. The neighbors were not amused.
It was no big surprise when Emme announced she wanted a mimosa tree for her birthday. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of living near a mimosa tree, they produce lovely fluffy pink blossoms and big stringbean-like seed pods. The tree also sheds those blossoms and pods, leaving an untidy yard. This bothers some people.
I am not one of those people. Neither was Emme's mother. A TREE FOR EMMY sticks closely to the real-life events. Girl wants tree, girl meets resistance, girl gets tree. Real-life handed me characters, plot and conflict. What more could a writer ask for?
A heart. I had written a story, but I didn't know what it was about.
Over time, I've discovered I have to write the story first and hope that by the next time I read it, I'll have an idea of what is flowing beneath the surface.
I literally don't know what I am writing about.
I wrote EMMY and put it away. I read it six months later. . .and I still didn't know what it was about. Another six months, another reading. Nothing. Six more months. Still clueless. So much for a "complete story" bestowed on me by the Muses.
In the interim, I wrote another picture book in which the main character was a dead Christmas tree (no kidding). A critique that story received was "A dead tree doesn't do anything. If it were a living tree, it would at least grow."
The Big A-Ha Moment. Trees grow! A TREE FOR EMMY was about growth, both plant and human. At last my story had a heart.
It only took five years to find The Missing Heart. Like Emmy and her tree, I discovered that writing requires time and patience.
P.S. The "dead Christmas tree" picture book eventually became a middle grade historical fiction, JIMMY'S STARS.
Mary Ann Rodman
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