Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pop a bottle of bubbly for me!

Hello internet pals,

So, I could write a snarky post about The Bachelor again, or I could make you chuckle with some wedding stories (which I intend to do in the very near future!), but before anything else, tonight I humbly ask you to raise a metaphorical glass to the fact that I have completed a project that has been over two years in the making.  I have written my first novel.

(WARNING: approaching nostalgic backstory)

The idea for this fantasy novel came to me while I was very stressed out in the midst of my last semester of college (the first time around), in spring 2008.  In my mind, I would go to my "happy place" when things got to be too much, and that happy place was the big backyard garden that my grandparents had at their house when I was growing up.  I ruminated on the idea for over six months, and came up with a basic plot outline, so I started writing in the fall of 2008.

It was more than just a story, though; it was also a way to connect across the miles with my kindred-spirit grandma, who was rapidly becoming net-savvy.  I started typing pages and sending them to her, encouraging her to edit, suggest, and critique.  That was probably the least successful part of our writing venture together, because - being Grandma - she assured me that every line was brilliant and perfect just the way it was.

I wrote whenever I had time, which became less and less frequent as work, school, and home renovations encroached on my spare minutes.  When Grandma's cancer came stomping back this fall, I dug in my heels and tried to write faster, so that she could read the happy ending while still on this earth.  However, the more I tried, the slower the words seemed to come, and her brain fog worsened in the final few weeks.  I had to settle for scribbling a summary of the last several chapters on a page from my journal, to be buried with her. 

It felt like I had failed her in some way, even though I knew that was ridiculous -- she would have been proud if I had written nothing but silly haikus for the rest of my life.  Still, I hoped for some kind of sign or encouragement, as I tried to write the final chapters of the story of this magical garden that she had inspired.  I stared at a vase of fresh flowers from her funeral on December 10, and thought impulsively to myself, "I will finish before these flowers wilt."

The next month was pure insanity -- road trips back and forth between Pittsburgh and Columbus (my hometown), during which I carefully transported the flowers in a vase, visits with family, frantically finishing Christmas preparations,and not nearly enough sleep.  I kept faithfully trimming stems and changing water, trying to stave off the inevitable wilting for as long as possible.  I discarded dead flowers and coddled those still left, but as weeks passed, I began to seriously doubt that I could ever meet the seemingly arbitrary deadline that I had set for myself.

A little over a week ago, I gave up.  The remaining stems were starting to get fuzzy, and all that was left were browning green chrysanthemums and dry purple sea lavender.  I trimmed the stems short, drained the vase, and left them sitting on the kitchen window-sill. 

Well, last night I finished the draft of my novel, The Keeper of Hawthorn Garden.  Early in the evening, as I took a break to nurse my nasty writer's cramp, I looked towards the kitchen window.  I took a second look at the vase of flowers, the vase that had been dry for at least a week.  The green chrysanthemums were brown and dried around the edges... but the centers were still as soft and green as they had been a month ago.  I stared at them, prodded them, smelled them: they looked, felt, and smelled alive.

Buoyed by the flowers' resilience, I kept writing, and retired to bed knowing that the final chapter had finally been committed to paper.  Tonight, I am looking at the chrysanthemums again.  The centers have dried and started to turn brown.  By tomorrow or the next day they will be completely wilted.  But somehow, for five weeks in the middle of winter, the last flowers made it until I finished my novel. 


  1. Beautiful post, Joy. I love how your writing connects you with your grandmother, and I'm glad you finished your manuscript. It's such a great feeling, isn't it? (And I'm sure it feels even better knowing that your grandmother will be so proud.)

    I'll try to drop back in sometime soon and check out your first chapter.

  2. 's a lovely first chapter, and well written. I think you're giving your Grandma too little credit when she told you that you didn't need to change anything ;)