Roughly ten years, Lauren told me a story about a time when she was six and was standing outside of a house and crying. And, somewhere in that story, she talked about a three-legged dog. And then, she talked about a place, a store called the Pear Tree.
In the last ten years, I have mentally sketched written, edited, re-written, revised, edited, re-written, edited, revised, and re-written this story. Because I had to understand why a six year-old girl was standing outside of a house and crying with a three-legged dog.
Why was this dog so important?
I can understand why Lauren was important to me. She has been important to me since 2002. But I couldn’t get that dog out of my head, this image of a little girl on her two whole legs, juxtaposed against the image of a three-legged dog, missing a limb but still intact in his own right.
And the words, a place called the Pear Tree.
Stretch words together….The Pear Tree House.
I have been living in the shoes of this six year-old girl for a decade. Have written her story so many times I can’t remember when I actually wrote about her, as an adult, walking through a concrete jungle because I had just heard an NPR book critic discuss a novel that started with something about a concrete jungle. I can’t remember anymore.
My original incarnation of Lauren’s story stuck truly to the six year-old girl. In my mind, her name was Elizabeth Grayson, or Beth for short. She had an older brother, Bobby. And when she was six, her parents sent her away so that Bobby could go through detox at home because, it turned out, Beth was actually helping his habit because she was bringing in the packages that were left for him in the mailbox. And he was hiding his drug stash between her mattress and the box spring. Because no one would think to search a little girl’s room.
But because the father was an elected official, the family wanted to keep things hush-hush so by sending her to spend the summer with the aunt (father’s sister), the family secret was kept and all was well.
I wrote my novel during Nanowrimo many, many years ago. And I was so proud of my little baby. I finished it a week early. I couldn’t stop writing, couldn’t stop following the words that unraveled left to right across my page.
In my original incarnation, Beth was a divorce lawyer, was divorced, smoked, and was generally unhappy with her life because her aunt, Margaret, was a horrible person as well as her son, Daniel.
But then I realized I couldn’t have Beth’s nemesis, Daniel, be named Daniel because that is the name of one of my brothers-in-law and my beloved nephew. Good-bye Daniel. Change the name to Andy. Now, one of my brother-in-law’s middle names was Andrew and I have a cousin-in-law whose name is Andrew. But I kept the name because it was close to Danny which was originally how the nemesis was called.
In the original incarnation, Beth was horribly abused by her parents, her aunt, and her cousin. The only person, ironically, who didn’t hurt her was her brother. Likely because he was addling his brain with heroine.
So, heroine-shooting brother goes through detox at home so Mommy and Daddy can keep their dirty laundry dirty and secret. Beth is sent to stay with the abusive aunt for the summer where her cousin takes a little too much interest in her.
He eventually leads her to a bed-and-breakfast down the road, the Pear Tree House, which is co-owned by three sisters: Rachel, Beatrice, and Susan. Andy causes huge amounts of trouble and damage. Beth takes the blame because she is afraid of her cousin who threatens her. The sisters are upset that damage was done (even resulting in the death of a chicken). They go to Aunt Margaret (who hates them) and they want financial restitution (not going to happen according to Aunt Margaret). Rachel, the sister who believes in saving the world, says that she wants Beth to “work off her debt.”
What ends up happening is one of the best summers of Beth’s life. She has a refuge from the abuse living at Aunt Margaret’s house. She has an escape from Andy. Until the end of the summer when Andy rears his ugly head and commits an atrocity. I won’t go into detail here. That’s still in the new rendition.
Beth refuses to return to Aunt Margaret’s house. She eventually goes to college. Gets married to Michael. Gets pregnant. Gives birth to their daughter Maddie. Divorces Michael. They remain friends (don’t ask me how. This is what the characters wanted).
Aunt Margaret died from emphysema. Beth is pretty much forced by her family to come for the funeral. Guess who’s there? Bobby still strung out on drugs. Andy still a slime ball. Parents still horrible. Blah blah blah.
Long story short, Beth finally divorces herself from her family. She makes up to the Pear Tree House people all the wrongs that were committed against them. Goes home. Sort of happy ever after.
Wrote it up. Edited. Had a great editor who really helped me change it….to the point where Beth’s age was changed to twelve. Abusive parents were written out. Nice loving parents written in. Bobby written out. Aunt Margaret written out. Aunt Joyce, the nice aunt, written in.
Write. Edit. Revise. Write. Edit. Revise. Think I have a good manuscript.
Send it to literary agents.
Reject. Reject. Reject. I was told that my writing had “polish and poise.” Nice to read. Nice thing to read when I’m also being told that my novel was not what they were looking for. I wasn’t devastated. I did shed a tear or two with the first rejections. Then those dried up with the lack of responses coming from other agents (basically…more rejections).
And then came the week when my mother-in-law took my children on vacation and I had a week of quiet in the house. And Pat and I went out for lunch. And I confessed to him my frustrations about the novel and the rejections. And he talked about the sensationalism and the “cult of victimization.” We talked about how so many of today’s novels focus on a victim. Kind of like my novel.
So, I started ripping and ripping and ripping. Good-bye Andy (a bit of a relief there). Hello Calder (probably going to change his name….). Michael went from being a character in one chapter to becoming a lead character. New situations. New problems. New thoughts and new ideas and new characters.
Now, two years later with another rejection under my belt, I am going through the novel once more. I have been advised by trusted friends to shelve the novel. Work on a different project. But I can’t. Not when I have dreamt about being in the kitchen of the Pear Tree House and reassured Rachel, Beatrice, and Susan that I was going to write their words, that I was going to tell their story. I can still see the plaid of Rachel’s flannel shirt. I can still see their hair styles, see the way they leaned forward on the counter and looked at me accusingly.
I’m not crazy. I really am not. But I did dream about those characters. And I have to finish. So I am editing once more…hopefully for one of the real last times. Because I finally feel like I might have something that I really can stand by. I haven’t felt this good, this certain in a while. And even then, I know I have felt something like this before…but not quite.
World, I am ready. I’m ready to start sending again. I haven’t felt this confident in a while. I know that I will be rejected again. I’m ready for them.
But, please, give my baby a try. Get past whatever mistakes and faux pas I might have made and give my baby a chance.
Poem for the day is a poem written from the perspective of Michael to Beth.
A Lullaby for Beth
Come to me my beloved;
Rest in the arabesque of my arms,
Against the calligraphy of my body.
Lay your head in the nook of my shoulder
In the curve against my heart
In this nest that harbors dreams of healing..
Dreams of peace….
Dreams of a loved life that holds no nightmares for you.
Come to me my darling;
I know your scars,
Know the tendrils of history written on your skin,
Know the fractures that you have patched with a broken
I offer a blanket that will cover
But not conceal.
But not suffocate.
But let you remain free.
I am here, my love.
I am here, in this bed of quiet,
With no questions, no needs, no wants.
I am here with this empty space
That matches the angles of your body
And I will mold myself around you…
Conform my love to the untidy jigsaw teeth that you are
And will help you shoulder the yoke you carry.
When your strength falters, I will carry you.
When the burden of your life makes your shoulders bend,
I will stand a little straighter so your scales will re-align and balance.
And when you stumble and start to fall, I will be there
To reach out and catch your hand, keep you from plummeting over
That precipice one more time,
And keep your hands from dragging against the rocks.
So come to me my lover in this quiet bower I have made,
And when the past strikes its hands against you,
Batters its memories into your skin and raises up the bruises,
I will know the topography of your pain
And sing you back into the world we share.