For me, the gift of writing came from my parents. My dad showed me how to finish a manuscript, laugh at rejections, and write like only I write. My mom taught me to find the emotional core of my story and believe I can actually do this publishing thing.
But…they didn't actually know they were teaching me these things. See, it was in the guise of teaching me other things.
Growing up, the woods behind our house were filled with rocks. This was, in my dad's opinion, the perfect tool for teaching work ethic. I believe my siblings and I moved no less than 7,000 rocks over the years. I think we were building a rock wall. Verdict's still out. But rock wall or not, I've finished manuscripts because of him—one "rock" at a time.
Rock master that he was, my dad has always been fun, the quintessential maker of jokes. He taught me that life is funny even when I think it's serious. There's a lot of rejection in this business. Not taking myself too seriously has been essential to survival.
And something he does like a boss…he's always been the one that marches to the beat of his own drum. (Literally and sometimes during the 70's without a shirt on.)
This told me it's okay to write how I write! I have a style—a rhythm!—that's all my own.
And my mom? Besides being fun and climbing rock walls in Alaska and doing crazy things we think of in Colorado like, "Hey, let's take turns climbing out of this hollow stump!"…
…besides all that—my mom taught me compassion. She still teaches me by her example. She's so good at seeing a need, then doing something about it. I have a long way to go before I'm my mom, but her compassionate approach to life has helped me better understand the heart of my characters. She's helped me add emotional resonance to my stories.
She's also fiercely believed in me from day one. A lifetime of someone knowing I can do it all— and me knowing that she knows (if that makes sense)—makes impossible things not so impossible.
And who doesn't want to make their parents proud? It's part of who we are as humans. This past fall I taught a class at a conference in Kansas City. Bonus: I got to go back home with my baby and see my parents. After the conference, my mom dropped us off at the airport. When she hugged me goodbye and said, "I'm so proud of you for fulfilling your dream!"—well, I suppose it was at that moment I felt I had finally made it.
THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
Coming Fall 2018 from Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers