My Mother’s Dream vs Mine
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Truth.
In spite of a fourth absolutely stellar review that I will always cherish, I put a copy of Dark Revelations in the mail to my mom with the same trepidation as every time I send her one of my books. I want her, like the reviewers, to find it fascinating, intimately written, extraordinary. If she does, I’ll never hear it from her.
Considering that she was my biggest cheerleader when I was growing up—always trying to keep me from getting hurt or disappointed in the evitable way she expected to happen—we have an odd history related to my writing career. It’s the one thing she’s never been a cheerleader for, even though she really does try.
She didn’t seem to mind my story-telling when I was three years old and rode to town with her every day (three miles away) to see my grandmother or get groceries or whatever and I would stand on the car seat beside her and sing my little heart out about brave warrior girls who fought and overcame adversity—all stories I made up but undoubtedly some kind of bleed-through from past lives. This was even before the nights I would steal away with an old copy of the encyclopedia and hide behind a bed to stare at pictures of Joan of Arc being burned at the stake.
The first time she minded my story-telling and writing
abilities, I was 9 years old. I’d written a few paragraphs about a girl my age who had run away from an unhappy situation at home to answer the call of destiny and go save the world. I still remember my mom making me sit at the silver, metallic kitchen table and read her the words out loud and tell her whether or not I was happy and promise her I’d never run away. I felt so horrible, so guilty for causing her worry. I even swore I’d never write again, but I couldn’t keep the promise.
It wasn’t a promise I could have made freely because even at that age I was already committed and felt the huge struggle of trying to fight something in my blood and in trying to please my beloved parent. She’d mistaken my first attempt at fiction for a confession.
Not unlike the 3rd grade teacher who was upset at Aislinn’s very well-written story about a princess whose parents died in a fire and then she had to go save the kingdom on her own. At the age of 8, she had no intentions of becoming a murderous pyromaniac co- dependent but she certainly set off the teachers at Blue- water Elementary who didn’t understand the necessity of separation from parents and loving authority—usually by death or imprisonment of some sort—to the success of a child-heroine in popular fiction who must act alone and courageously in this rite of passage. I mean, think Disney-princess-with-a-dead-mother, will you? As a writer myself, I understood the conventions of the craft and gave Aislinn the encouragement she needed. The encouragement I did not get from my own mother.
Many times, I tried to quit writing, but I couldn’t stay “quit.” It would eat at me until I had to do it again. Throughout my elementary through high school years, it was a secret passion that I allowed some people to see but I kept it mostly hidden from my mother. My friends read my work. My teachers read it and raved about it. Classmates took it home to share with their parents and friends. Occasionally an adult would accuse me of plagiarizing it or copying something my parents must have written, which was always laughable, given the situation. Everyone knew I was a writer and had been—as close to can be—born a writer.
But I didn’t advertise it to my mother. She thought it would detract from my hours of music practice. Her dream for me was to do what she’d never been “allowed” to do—become a concert pianist. I took music lessons and tried to live her dream until, finally in college, I confessed to her that music just didn’t call to me as strongly as writing did and always had. And considering how much I love music and how important it is in my life, that’s saying a lot.
When I was in college, I finally began sharing my writing with her again, but yet again, she misunderstood and assumed I must be writing every word from experience. I guess it’s from my dad’s side of the family that I access my imagination because she never understood how it was a separate world for me than the one I live in, even though bits and pieces of my mundane existence would creep into the stories or characters. Maybe she thinks all writers are retelling their personal stories in all the other books she avidly reads.
For a long time after that, I stopped writing. I focused on my career, my marriage, my master’s degree, my baby…and told myself that one day I’d have time to get around to writing those stories that populated whole universes in my head. When Shannon was 6 months old and I was busier than I’d ever been in my life, I realized that one day I’d be 90 years old and sitting in a nursing home telling myself that I’d write when I “got around to it” or when I “had time.” That night, I started my first novel.
When my first book was published, I happily presented it to my mom and watched her cry as she read the dedication, which was to her because much of the heroine’s spirit was based on hers. When she finished it, she didn’t say much. She talked about what a good story it was. Then, of course, came the bombshell I’d been hoping wouldn’t come and I’d been bracing for. It’s terribly hard for a little Baptist girl to let her prudish mother read a sex scene she’s written….
My editor had also mentioned to me that my publisher had a tendency to cut at least half the profanity in manuscripts. I wanted my hero to use a little here and there as part of his characterization, so I put in twice the profanity I needed. Just my luck, nothing got cut! In fact, the only words cut were horny, Jesus, and rubber. ( I keep forgetting that you can’t call on God during a sex act without offending someone in the Bible Belt.)
So my mother, in her very polite Southern, salt-of- the-Earth sort of way, tells me how much she loved my book. Then she says, “You know, I was reading a book just the other day, and it was a real good story and it didn’t have any bad words in it. Or any sex.” She says sex with at least three syllables.
She’d never show a lack of support, but she gets her message across.
Since then, she’s read a number of my books in manuscript format. Her favorite is Thunderstorms and Convertibles a book that got turned down when I lost my first editor and the new one didn’t like it. Several years ago, my mom gave me a lighthouse nightlight, one similar to the lighthouse on the beach in the story.
“I’ve had it for years,” Mama told me. “I was saving it for when you got Thunderstorms and Convertibles published, but looks like that isn’t ever going to happen so I’m going to go ahead and give this to you now.” The book will be out next year, mostly as it was written in the early 90’s but with a few changes. She won’t like the changes I’ve made either.
But for all the manuscripts she’s read, I didn’t share Dark Revelations with her before publication. Just too busy to print out a copy for her. I brace myself now for what- ever she’ll find wrong. A typo that umpteen editors and read-throughs missed. A desire to change a major plot point. Something. She’ll find something. Some people can’t simply be fans—they have to give a “fair and balanced” critique and dredge up something they didn’t like that is personal opinion and the author will take it far more seriously than the reader ever meant. But I’m sure my mom, in her very well-meaning way, will find some- thing that’s a problem. My parents did a great job of in- stilling their own insecurities in their children, but I sup- pose all parents do.
I don’t mean that observation about my mom in a spiteful way. I love my mom very much and I understand the way things are with her and why they are this way. She’d never do anything to be hurtful toward me. She doesn’t mean anything bad by the way she shows her support—or lack of it. It’s simply the way things are. She can’t simply say, “I love it,” and if she added, “And I can’t find a thing wrong with it,” I’d be shocked.
I’ll never be able to write the perfect book for her. But I remember being 9 years old and practicing the piano for hours on end—living her dream, not mine—and the whole time wanting so badly to close the keyboard and go write, write, write about adventurous girls saving the world. My mom would listen to me play as she cooked dinner or washed dishes, and for my music—for her dream—she’d always heap tons of praise on me, no matter how many wrong notes I hit.