Elizabeth Gilbert talks about inspiration like she is your best friend, always hanging around somewhere nearby, but also willing to hit the road for greener pastures if you aren’t respectful. I’m wrapping up the final “final” edits on Basket Baby, and contemplating what story I want to tell next. The idea for Basket Baby landed in my lap when visiting Bolivia and hearing about women who abandon their babies at the doorsteps of wealthy homes, hoping the families inside will take the child in permanently.
I spent a year or more considering the different motivations for a woman willing to leave her child in such a setting, and another five years researching, writing and editing this story. I’m proud of it, and I’m ready for it to take wings and fly far, far away from my laptop. (My writing group, editing partner, friends and family are on the same page, so to speak. Everyone is ready to see Basket Baby on a bookstore shelves and outside of their email in boxes with subject lines like, “Please? Just one more read through — I promise!”
This writing game is a balance of vulnerabilities and brazen courage. You have to be able to create a life and spin truth from daydreams, and yet… be tender enough to ask others afterward if your creation rings true. And then tough enough to discern when the edits are helpful, and when they are spiteful.
In the last month, the next novel idea has shown up on my doorstep. She flew in, landing on my shoulder, when I was peeling wallpaper from the kids’ bathroom walls. Piece by tedious piece, I steamed and scraped and was surprised to discover writing on the walls beneath the paper’s old, saffron colored glue. There were contractor scribbles here and there — some in pen, other in fading, barely legible pencil. What secrets could be hidden in a house, papered over for the next generation to uncover? This curiosity, and a recent tour of the Phoenix Indian School has me dreaming of a big, redemptive tale to shine light on a darkness in Arizona’s history: the roundups of American Indian children on tribal lands, starting in the 1890s, for a “civilized education” in government boarding schools.
Schools where children were taught in English, converted to Christianity, sexually abused with such a pervasiveness — you’d be sick, and not permitted to return home to their families during the summer break. Many children in this era left their homes at age 5 and were sent back to their reservations at at 18, unable to communicate with their families. But hey, at least they were civilized.
Welcome, dear Inspiration. God bless you for showing up, being patient, and hanging around. I may need you to stroke my hair from time to time, whispering reassurances.Let’s cast away these shadows together, shall we?
(And not to be greedy, but can this story please take less than six years to create?)