Welcome to my gorgeous new website! Many, many thanks to Erin and Phil Ulrich of Design by Insight for every beautiful detail and Will Bogel of Mr. Darcy Designs for the Blogger redirect. They’ve made this little corner of the Internet truly feel like home.
I’m celebrating this new start with a MAY B. giveaway I’m calling courage and hope. I inscribe this on every copy of MAY B. I’m asked to sign. These two little words encompass everything I think of May, who she is and what she can handle (whether she knows it or not).
I’ve borrowed May’s bravery on a number of occasions — while running the last miles of a grueling race, in facing situations where I’ve felt ill-equipped, when the book itself was left orphaned and in limbo after Random House shuttered the doors of May’s initial imprint, Tricycle Press.
Of all the things May’s taught me, it’s been the courage to be truthful with my fiction that has impacted me the most. But outside of the historical era the story’s anchored in, what kind of truth is there in a story that grew out of my imagination?
I’d read two verse novels before starting MAY B. because the book was never meant to be written this way. It was after my first attempts at drafting that I felt the distance between what I was imagining and what was on the page. Truth was missing. So I returned to my research, namely the first hand-accounts of frontier women, where May’s voice came to me in their spare, guarded letters and journals, words that echoed their environment and the harsh reality of their day to day.
Round about the time I started drafting May as a verse novel, I remember my mother asking me what I was working on. I tried to explain to her this new beginning that was like nothing I’d ever done before. I wasn’t ready to call it verse — certainly not poetry —but this I knew: it was the most honest thing I’d ever created, and despite my lack of knowledge and skill, that’s what saw me through.
If an author is approaching a book honestly, there is little room for her to hide. The work itself will confront her every time she opens it. It will force her to reflect. And the thing this manuscript brought to me again and again as I spent time with May and Teacher and Miss Sanders were my own shortcomings in the classroom.
In creating a character whose needs weren’t fully understood or met by her teachers, I had to admit the times I’d not done all I could for a child, whether those limitations came from time constraints, lack of skills or knowledge, or worst of all, not caring for one student as much as the next. It was an ugly thing to face, but this truth let me most honestly examine May’s struggles and feelings of frustration, hurt, and confusion. The writing became a way to know my students more fully, a way to ask forgiveness.
With each new book, I find new reasons to hold back, stay guarded. It’s hard to courageously expose the hundreds of writing techniques I’ve yet to master, the thousands of ways I’m flawed. But May has taught me I can’t go back — and I don’t want to. Because writing truth is the only way to breathe life into a character. Only when I’m pushed to be courageous will I find the words I truly need to say.
I want to start a conversation here about courage and hope — what these words mean to you, ways you’ve seen them lived out, things you’ve learned because of them. If you blog, consider sharing a picture, a memory, a quote, a story — anything — that represents one or both of these words, then link back here so other readers can share in the celebration. If you don’t blog, share your courage and hope thoughts on Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtags #MayB. and #courageandhope. Ten participants will win paperback copies of MAY B.
The contest is open between now and February 25 to US residents. Please mention the giveaway and discussion in your post and link back here, following the steps below, or by commenting on Twitter or Facebook. So excited to have you join in the conversation!