Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Heart of a Seed

Posted by Lynne

The faith waiting in the heart of a seed promises a miracle of life which it cannot prove at once.

~ Rabindranath Tagore

In 2000, my mother was flattened by a stroke and in her suffering she handed me the seed that would become my second novel. The character she inspired is not her in most ways. Nor are any of the other characters, found in my work-in-progress inspired by people I've known, real people. Or the plot points I’ve chosen, real events. Yes, I’ve taken details—other seeds—from my life and placed them in my protagonist’s home or let them slip from the lips of my supporting characters’ mouths. They are merely seeds. The dictionary definition of which is: that from which anything springs; a first principle; the original source.

My protagonist and her husband meet in a museum. My husband and I met in a bar, but the idea for my fictional couple’s meeting place stems from the little known fact that I told my grandmother I met my husband in a museum because our reality would have been unseemly to her back then. She later told me she knew the truth, but liked my fib much better. “It’s more romantic,” she said. Seed.

A major symbol in my work-in-progress is curtains. Swag, tab and pinch pleat. With their names as unique as pets, one of my characters adores designing and sewing them. Though my own mother never designed anything, and could barely thread a needle to sew a button on, she did love to change the curtains in our home. I remember she once said to me, “You wouldn’t wear the same clothes for six months, why would you want to look at the same curtains.” Seed.

Last fall when Life Without Summer sold to St Martin’s, my enormous delight was tinged with a spot of regret for not pursuing my fiction career sooner; I will be forty-nine when my debut novel hits shelves. Through the years I’ve looked in many places to find my personal form of artistic expression. Then came raising my children, launching my business, and writing my nonfiction. Still I wonder why I didn’t pursue this creative passion years ago.

Then last week, fully into writing a first draft of my second novel, it hit me that my age is actually a gift I couldn’t exchange now. I was reminded that I have no shortage of seeds to inform and give authenticity to my work. As I write, details spring from my life experience. Right there just underground, is a memory that is exactly what I need to round out a scene, the particulars act as motivation for a character. Digging deeper, I pull out a fabulous name from my childhood for a key character, and I unearth from a family vacation, the perfect setting for a cliffhanger. My days and nights working in an intensive care unit as a nurse, while putting myself through grad school, give me the fine points I'll need for two high stakes pivotal scenes. These details are organic, and though borrowed from another life, I have faith they will give genuineness to this one I am creating.

The seeds are there; planted over many years, they wait for all of us. Mature writers, like experienced gardeners, know when the time is right for harvest.

Postscript—The opening quote was a seed for this blog entry.


Anonymous said...

A wonderful essay. Thank you.

I am beginning to think the advantage of age comes not only with maturity, but also with memory. I'm marveling at how little things from my past are creeping into my story--doesn't the past become sharper as we age? And in just the way you say. Nothing and no one is an exact match, but little bits and pieces gather together like cat hairs to dust bunnies.

Gee, another memory I might use. My college roommate and I balled up dust and, literally, shaped a bunny we sat by her tiny piano. Hole-punch paper disks made great eyes.

I don't regret waiting so long to write (I'm older than you), because I couldn't have written then what I can now. Of course, if I wait another ten year, think how good I'll be... ;)

Larramie said...

The truth is that youth shows when writing fiction. Voices are young, wisdom is superficial and details are disposable. Writing like that doesn't linger, but yours will, Lynne...yours will.

T. Forkner said...

A great post. I too have regretted not being able to publish sooner, but now I know that if I'd written my first novel in my twenties, it wouldn't have had the depth I hope this one has. Of course, at 36, I've been called a young author. LOL. That is funny. You are probably considered a young novelist yourself.

Carleen Brice said...

In my 40s too, I have to believe it's never too late! Also, I believe in divine timing. We're where we're supposed to be.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...


You are so right about not being able to write earlier, what you have insight into now. And I adore your brought-to-life dust bunny! My college age daughter would do something like that.

You are so kind! And please know your belief in me is so appreciated.


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Young is a state of mind. My friends at the writers' group know I hate that phrase, brown is the new black. But I don't seem to mind 50 is the new 30~!

Divine timing indeed. This whole process is one gigantic faith lesson, isn't it?!

Thanks all, for stopping by.


Therese Fowler said...

How pretty, and how true.

I've been told that many if not most women who become authors don't pursue their passion until their 30's or later.

Whether we're wise enough to know we aren't wise enough before then, or whether we're simply too busy being mothers, spouses, and daughters I'm not sure. I heartily agree, though, that there are many more viable seeds available to us now.

Glad to know your new wip is coming along so well.

Lisa said...

I wondered for a short time if I was starting on the path to fiction writing much too late, but only last night I was thinking that the timing is exactly right.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thanks, that's comforting to know. And yes, my wip is really coming along. My new characters are so fun to spend time with. How goes yours?

Funny how we all think through many of the same things from time to time. We really are part of the same human condition.

Thanks to both of you for your fine comments.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this post. I'm on the other side of this right now--my life doesn't seem to be giving me many (or any) opportunities to write (I have a two year old and no babysitting) and it feels it will NEVER happen because I couldn't make it happen back when I was childless.

It's good to have hope for the future.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Have hope, gather your seeds and take good care of your children. Shaping children of character comes first. I wouldn't trade a minute of raising my children; even on the most challenging of days, they were and are worth every sacrifice!


Lisa Marnell said...

Though, two wonderful YA authors: Stephenie Meyer (Twilight series), and Emily Franklin (The Principles of Love series) both penned their works of brilliant fiction with, you guessed it, two-year-olds to care for with no babysitting.

I, being the mother of a three-year-old and seven-year-old, know fiction writing CAN be done with balance without sacrificing any joyous parenting moments (how can a mom who is not fufilling her own needs possibly be able to satisfy others' needs)? Let me know, seriously, because most moms I know whose lives revolve around their children with littel to no attention to themselves have one thing in common: complaining and complaining.

Mark my words, I will be published within the next two years and I cannot even remember a time when I worked on my fiction when my children were awake or when I was at home with them. Honestly, it takes organization and the committment to not being lazy (ask Amy how she pushed those final couple months when writing Tethered - getting up early, very early).

What it really takes it commitment, not ideal circumstances. It's a choice.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...


You are so right. You can do both, you must believe you can and then with children's emotional needs tended to, make the writing happen.

I believe with all my heart that you will be published--soon!


Therese Fowler said...

I'm amazed at the mothers who are succeeding as authors while also raising young children. Jodi Picoult is another who just blazed onward, writing in every free moment.

As with everything, each of us must find our right fit.

My wip progress report, Lynne, is that it's DONE!

Anonymous said...

I love to hear the seeds of a story. It's amazing which things can grow into plot points or characters or conflict or dialogue or whatever, and which seemingly important aspects of our lives never do.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thanks for the update Therese, you must feel like a million bucks.

That is interesting isn't it. Some of the most important things in our lives don't make it to the page, while a scent or a gesture or a memory deepens a scene, strengthens our stories.


Anonymous said...

Stay strong Mardougrrl. The secret to writing with kids is being able to stay awake longer than they can. Something I was never able to do. So it can be hard.

Some time ago, Anna Quindlin mentioned in her column that she wrote while raising kids but never let them see her work and how, now, she thought that was tragic.

Sometimes, though, you just have to wait for the switch to flip. I stared at a blank computer screen for months, and only when I got full-time work, and no longer had "time," did I panic, buy a notebook and pen, and filled it in a matter of weeks during 15 minutes breaks and half-hour lunches. Now I'm addicted.

It's easier, I suppose if you can flip that switch yourself instead of just waiting. But as Grandma always said, "If it's meant to be, it'll happen."

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

I like Quindlen's point about having your children see you work. I think it's important. I've had a home office for years, and told my children when they thought about interrupting me for something trivial, they should think first about whether or not they would call me about it if I were working in Boston. To this day, my office is called, Boston. As in, "Well, I'm off to Boston." When I say this everyone pretty much leaves me to my writing.


Shauna Roberts said...

Lovely, clear description of how all the elements of one's life serve as fodder for one's fiction. At 51, I regret not starting writing seriously earlier, and yet I know my writing has much more depth and truth because of all I have been and seen and done.

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