My Christmas card is usually the first one in your mailbox. But I admit this greeting is early, even for me. My Christmas book this year doubles as an all-year message that God has big plans for little ones.
Believe it or not, this wedding-cake topper dates back to August 4, 1944, the anniversary of Helen and Frank Daley, my parents. Actually, the wedding dress should be an Army uniform too. They met in boot camp, married a few weeks later and were sent to different countries overseas as Army doctor and Army nurse. All they had to keep their marriage together were letters. They wrote each other 2-3 times a day. For over a decade, I’ve worked at writing a novel based on stories I’ve heard my whole life and pairing some of the over 600 letters they left me. In March, my “dream book” will be released: With Love, Wherever You Are: A Novel. I probably shouldn’t be blogging about this so far in advance of release, but I’m too excited not to.
Kid in a Box — a vain attempt to keep them from growing up
Here are some more insights from children I interviewed:
Me (to boys K-2nd): Who’s the boss at your house?
- “My dad’s the boss of our house because my mom said so.”
- “My mom is the boss of our house. She’s so good at it she’s even the boss of her work.”
- “My dad really is the boss of our house . . . till Grandma comes over. Then he’s just one of us.”
Me (to girls K-2nd): What was your mom like when she was your age?
- “I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but my guess would be . . .pretty bossy.”
- “They say she used to be nice!”
Me: Why do you think we even have mothers?
2nd-grade boy: “She’s the only one who knows where the Scotch tape is?”
(Bet you can’t tell what’s happening here.)
Some of you probably know who Art Linkletter was–author of Kids Say the Darndest Things. He allowed me to write the sequel, Kids Are Still Saying the Darndest Things, followed by a bunch of “kid quote” books.It was a great gig while it lasted. Art L. wrote the introduction, I asked kids questions, and I put the best answers into books. Since then, the quotes have appeared all over the Internet. I’ve even received quotes in my emails from friends who had no idea where those answers came from. So, if you’ve heard these, it’s not my fault:
Me to an entire kindergarten class: “What’s God look like?” Every hand went up, but I chose one kid, who answered, “He’s really, really, really old–like 23–but He never looks a day older every time you see him.”
Me to a very active 2nd-grade boy: “Do your parents always love you?” Answer: “I think so. But you’d have to ask them to be sure. And don’t bring up anything that has to do with my little sister, a jump rope, and our cat.”
When I teach creative writing workshops, I love to highlight POV (point of view). One exercise that almost always works is to break into groups of two or three and start an argument. After a few minutes, each person records that argument, complete with dialog, gestures, and thoughts from his or her point of view. The difference in those accounts is usually startling, especially if the passion is for real.
Most of us know the story of Jonah and the big fish . . . from Jonah’s point of view. But what about that big fish? True, I had to imagine this part, but I wanted to look at things from a different angle. So…imagine a fish who’d long felt he’d been created to do one mighty deed. Yet now he’s old, and no deed has come. Then with a storm at sea, the Fish sees a man tossed overboard. I watched till I heard the Creator’s strange plan: “Your brave and bold deed is to swallow this man!” He obeys, but worries about the man in his belly…until Jonah prays and the Creator commands the Fish to spit the man onto the shore. He landed–kerplop!–and he tumbled a bit./Who knew my great deed would be SWALLOW AND SPIT?
Let me say right off that although I do dream, this isn’t one, not for real, not a vision either. I love the “daydream” state when I close my eyes and people my own dreams, adding wonderful things, like celebrations. Some time ago, daydreaming, I imagined I died (not sure where that one came from). But I found myself in heaven, greeted at the gates by a kindly angel, who asked me where I’d like to go first. Of course, I said, “The Library, please.”
I followed the angel into the most magnificent library, books shelved to the sky. I spent an eternity (or so) rereading the classics, looking through books I’d only heard about. There was even a shelf for me, with nearly every book I’d ever written. After a while (time is hard to calculate in eternity), the angel must have noticed something in me: “What’s wrong, Dandi?” “Well,” I answered, not wanting to find fault in this amazing location, “these books are fantastic, but . . . I’ve run across most of them down there, on earth. I kind of thought you guys would have your own stuff.”
“Yes,” the angel admitted. “But we had them first.” As I tried to figure out what that meant, I was motioned to follow down long, cobwebbed passages, past dust-covered rooms where I heard music more beautiful than I’d ever heard on earth. Finally, I was ushered into an echoing chamber, an untended room infinitely larger than The Library. These shelves were overcrowded with books farther than I could see in every direction. I reached for one close to the entrance, dusted it off and read the first page. I’d never heard of it before, but that book could have helped me through the toughest days of my life. At random, I chose another book, a novel that I wish my aunt could have read because it would have reached her in a way I couldn’t. There were books I wanted to give my children, my grandchildren. When I couldn’t stand it, I turned on the angel. “These books!” I shouted. “I never saw these. They could have changed the lives of everyone I knew. Why didn’t you send these down there?”
The angel looked pained. “We tried. Their authors wouldn’t take them. There, that one is sitting in the young man’s desk, but he lacks the courage to try to get it published. And the novel there received criticism and never was rewritten. This one is lovely, but only three chapters exist as the author is rather preoccupied. I wanted to cry for all of the lost stories and experiences. I wanted to shout down, to yell at those lazy authors . . . until another book caught my attention. I took it out and dusted the spine. My name was on it. It was that book I always thought about writing but never got around to it.
Not a real dream, but have you ever listened to authors, musicians, architects, and other creative people? You’ll hear declarations like “And then I got it! She’d been in the accident with her brother!” “I know I don’t have the right ending.” “I’m almost there.” Creating a story is a bit like unraveling a ball of string, or that’s how it feels sometimes. This has been my most rewarding year in over 30 years of writing. I’ve dusted off my “dream books.” (If you’re still with me, the Flipside Stories above is a line of books I thought up 12 years ago.) Two other “dreams” are coming out soon–one for tweens and teens, and my dream novel for grown-ups. But the most exciting thing is that I believe I have more of those books in the dusty library . . . and you probably have your share in one of those rooms too.