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For Aspiring Writers

The Journey of Prodigal Journey: my seven-year itch to get into print.

This journey to authorship by Linda P. Adams is a wonderful incentive for writers who are also mothers, and who are concerned with making sure their children come first. When I first read Linda's essay on the AML-List, I was reminded vividly of my own pathway to publishing. I hope that both stories will encourage you. Below Linda's original essay are several questions and comments made on the list, as well as her replies.

Linda P. Adams journey.
Comments by Darlene Young.
Comments by D. Michael Martindale and Linda P. Adams.



By Linda P. Adams

When people ask how long it took me to write the 500-plus pages of Prodigal  Journey, I answer, "I'm not sure." It's my second-most frequently asked question. I give this vague answer because the number one question people ask is a desperate, "When's Volume 2 coming out?" (The answer: Summer  2001.) I don't want to scare them by saying, "Oh, Volume One took about seven years."

The seven year figure is accurate and inaccurate at once. Yes, from the time I wrote the first chapter in 1993 to the time I held my book in my hands last summer was seven years. The actual writing, however, didn't take up nearly all that time. I'm honestly not sure how long the writing and editing process was. It was put together piecemeal, one tiny bit at a time, writing faster near the end of the process than in the beginning.

I stated in the preface to Prodigal Journey that there was a certain chapter that started this whole snowball rolling. It's Chapter 37, "The Stranger," in which my protagonist, Alyssa, is healed of an injury by a man she later discovers is Jesus Christ. I saw the scene as a picture: Alyssa's face looking up, grimy and drawn, as he calls her by name and lifts her up.

I wrote it down. After that, I had to find out who Alyssa was, her history, where she was going. Vague, shadowy images formed in my mind about her family and personal relationships. It seemed to me, even that early on, that this scene was a tiny piece of a giant whole; an epic story revolving somehow around the building of the New Jerusalem in Independence.

It wasn't written in order at all. First I finished the final chapters of the book, detailing where Alyssa went after her healing, and "met" Peter and his family. More ideas regarding the plot kept coming, and I wrote them down as I had time.

At this point in my life, "writing time" was infrequent. Sarah, my third child, was an infant. I'd just had three babies in three years, two still in diapers. Largely because of the actual demands of all the babies, and partly due to a hope of being a "normal" Molly-Mormon style Mommy, I had put all writing completely on hold until I wrote this one fateful chapter.

Let me back up a bit. I've always wanted to write. I started writing creative stories in grade school, started writing poetry in high school (horrific verse loaded with teen angst), and took every creative writing class I could manage during my four years at BYU.

When the babies started coming (after college), I stopped writing completely. I assumed I couldn't be a Good Mormon Mom and a writer at the same time. This is an issue I still struggle with, though I'm learning how to find balance between the two. I also discovered—with that one chapter—that I couldn't just "stop" writing. It's in my blood; the drive isn't going away, whatever the result. Being published helps. Taking time for writing feels less subversive than it used to. I still feel odd; I don't spend weekends scrap booking, I'm a terrible housekeeper, and I don't quite fit in any standard LDS cultural mold. Thankfully, I don't mind feeling odd, have grown comfortable with my identity, and never cared for crafts in the first place. But I do talk to my children, all the time, and make sure I'm there for all their crossroads, and do my best at this parenting business.

It worked out that the bulk of the manuscript was finished about the same time we got our first real home computer. (Before that, I used spiral notebooks and an ancient 8086 [XT] with a 5" floppy.) We connected to the Internet, and I discovered AML-List. I got up the courage to throw some of what I felt was my better work on a free Geocities site (which I've since moved to Earthlink), including the preface chapters of my book.

I still questioned whether to continue spending time on the novel. I questioned my ability to write. Often I thought I should just give up. I spent a good deal of time on my knees and in the temple asking whether this was something I ought to be spending time doing. My answers were clear and refreshing: keep going. I don't make this statement to assert I have any extra-special Talent from God. I don't know that. I'm only saying this  answer brought me peace, to know He encouraged me to write, that I was on the right path for my life.

I also found if I was going to write about the Last Days and the establishment of the New Jerusalem, I had to do a LOT of research. I turned primarily to scripture, which I've searched thoroughly. I also read many books on latter-day prophecy (some spurious, some not), and researched general Mormon folklore on latter-day subjects. I even learned a new word: eschatology, the study of the last days before the end of the world as prophesied in scripture. I've also had to learn the myriad of differences between our own, fluid Mormon eschatology, and the more strict interpretation of prophesied events demanded by other Christian faiths. It's been an education.

To continue with my publishing history, not long after establishing my web presence, I was contacted by Richard Maher Associates (formerly Richard Maher NE LDS Publishing & Distributing). They were interested in the book. Eric Knight had read the chapters on my website after hearing about it from a post I made on AML-List. It's clear to me that in many direct ways, I have AML-List to thank that this novel is in print today. I also workshopped the first few chapters through an AML-List writer's group offered at that time. With the help of my group, especially critique from List member Scott Parkin, I was able to rewrite the first segments with stronger, more realistic characters and correct some beginner's mistakes.

I did sign with Richard Maher, finishing the last missing segments of the manuscript, and going through my first experience of being edited. While working with them eventually didn't work out, it was a helpful experience overall. In January of 1999, they wrote to inform me they would be unable to publish the book for at least two more years due to financial constraints. As this delay was not allowed for in the contract, and since I'd gained enough confidence in my work by this point to feel I could market it elsewhere, I exercised my right to cancel the contract.

Although disappointing, by then I was ready to shop the manuscript around. I'd never done this before. It was rejected by over a dozen houses, small and large, including the major LDS Publishers, except for Cornerstone. They showed an interest right away. Still, I deferred accepting their offer until I'd heard from everyone else. They were new, and small, and I'd just been jilted by another small LDS press. I didn't want that to happen again I explained to Richard Hopkins I was once bitten, twice shy, and he was patient waiting for my answer; he was also patient in explaining he could deliver what he promised.

I signed my contract with them by December of 1999. The editing process went well. I felt Richard was able to spot problem areas we had previously overlooked at Richard Maher, and he has a scrupulous eye for fine detail. Finally, after seemingly endless phone calls and e-mails over details—cover design, choosing the series title, last minute edits—in July of 2000 I received the Box: a large package containing author's copies of my 517-page novel. It was a day I thought might never come, the whole publishing process an act of faith for me. This was my witness. I held my own book in my hands. It felt terrific.

The scary thing now was, it was Volume One. I have to keep producing. I had to outline the next two volumes before we printed the first, to make sure any elements I plan to develop are properly referenced in the first book. I know the story isn't fully told yet, and am as anxious to finish the rest as my readers seem to be to read it.

I have days where I feel I've taken on too much, yes. I've had two more children since that first chapter was written, plus two miscarriages. I was pregnant with this fifth child when I opened that box of author's copies; Rebekah was born in September. Large chunks of manuscript have been typed in one-handed while a baby (either Jacob, my fourth, or now Rebekah) nurses in my lap. And behind the scenes, supporting me all the way, has been my loving husband, Steve. He's always been there, waiting to read my rough draft as it spools out of my head, discussing ideas with me, and telling me I'm terrific and that I shouldn't give up. I wrote in the acknowledgements of _Prodigal Journey_ that without him I might stuffed the whole thing through a paper shredder. It's true.

In some ways I wonder if I've opened Pandora's box. If maybe I'd be better off if I _had_ chosen the paper-shredder route instead. I wonder if anyone who reads it will notice the attention to detail I strive for, my deeper themes, or how the structure correlates to Jesus' parable of the prodigal son. (This last thing was actually unintentional, something I didn't notice myself until I was nearly finished and searching for the perfect title. I was surprised it was there.) All I usually hear is, "When's the next book  coming?" Which is nice, too, of course.

I'm working on it. Right after I finish this article.

Linda Adams
adamszoo@sprintmail.com



Comments by Darlene Young:

I especially enjoyed Linda's description of the process of coming to accept the place of writing in her life. I too as a Mormon mother have spent hours on my knees wondering if it is OK to spend the time writing that I want to. (If I spent all the time writing that I do praying, think what I'd have written! Not to presume to compare the importance of those two activities in my life . . . ) Anyway, it's so encouraging to read stories of how others have pulled it all off. Thanks.



Comments by D. Michael Martindale with clips from Linda's original essay AND new comments posted over the AML-List:

Linda Adams:

I assumed I couldn't be a Good Mormon Mom and a writer at the same time. This is an issue I still struggle with, though I'm learning how to find balance between the two.

D. Michael Martindale:

I hope you mean you still struggle with finding the balance, and not that you still struggle with whether you should write or not. My elders quorum president, who has been unemployed for a few months, regaled us with an epiphany after running the entire household for a month:

Linda:

Actually, I know I can't quit writing, because I tried. Didn't work. But I  do still struggle with the role itself, yes. When I'm writing intensively (like I am right now) my schedule can be crazy. I can get over-absorbed in my work. I have to work at not doing that to excess. I have plenty of days when I think, "What did I think I was doing?" I'm grateful for the many Priesthood blessings I've had which encourage me forward. I've never once been told by the Spirit not to write. In fact it's always the opposite.

Without that knowledge, I doubt I could keep working to publish.  Plus it's always a struggle for any working Mormon mother—whether it's writing (at home) or a (pardon the expression) Real Job or Career vs. Mothering. It goes back to Pres. Benson's directive of "Mom, come home." If  I choose this path, am I still following the prophet? Am I still a good enough parent for my children? Can I actually succeed at both things? Really? Because if I have to choose only one, family wins out. Yet OTOH, a friend offered me some of the best parenting advice I've ever heard, years ago: You can be a full-time stay-home mom and still not "be there" for your children when they need you. True.

D. Michael:

"Housework really sucks," he said. "I mean it really sucks! I remember a bishop telling me once that housework is not a career, and shouldn't have to be for women. Housework is just stuff that needs to get done, and everyone should be pitching in to do it. The woman has as much right to develop herself as a person and not be tied down to all that housework as the man." (Horribly paraphrased, of course.)

He said he understood now what his bishop was talking about. No one should have to do that stuff full time.

Does that not say it all?

Linda:

AMEN, brother. Anecdote those of you with 4+ children will understand: When my mother-in-law came to help with this baby, she caught up the laundry. As she came up the basement stairs with baskets in hand, she said, "Just the LAUNDRY is a full-time job here!" I said, "I know." That's why we have a basket for each kid, and toss the clean clothes in the right basket. (We're working on teaching them to fold. Not a ton of progress yet.) Iron? What's an iron? At least we can find our underwear . . .

With under 4 kids, it's still physically possible to get laundry "done." After 4, especially 5, forget it. (My plan is by the time each kid is 14, they're doing their own!) And to my husband's credit even though he's in night school for an MBA two nights a week—I turned over all the laundry to him until this book's done, and nothing is molding and we don't have "pink" socks that should be white. Housework should be shared by everyone who lives in the house. I'm glad I have a husband who comprehends this. Like I said in my article, the first book couldn't have been written without him, and this is a big part of the reason why.

Linda:

I'm a terrible housekeeper,

D. Michael:

You know how many non-writers are also terrible housekeepers?

Linda:

Yeah, but my terrible housekeeping is a conscious decision. :-) I actually know how and choose not to, which makes it seem so much worse . . .

Linda:

But I do talk to my children, all the time, and make sure I'm there for all their crossroads, and do my best at this parenting business.

D. Michael:

That's the only important part anyway. The rest is just "stuff."

Linda:

True, and I put that in the article to stake my claim I'm doing good enough. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but that's unattainable anyway.

Linda:

In some ways I wonder if I've opened Pandora's box.

D. Michael:

You mean like when Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt? When Jesus came and preached the Gospel? When Abinadi called King Noah to repentance? When Joseph Smith gave the world a new book of scripture? Or how about when John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, etc., declared independence from Great Britain? When Mohandas Gandhi walked to the sea and made salt in defiance of the law? When Martin Luther King told the nation about a dream he had? When Ronald Reagan told Gorbachev to "tear down this wall"?

The only way to avoid opening Pandora's boxes is to accomplish nothing.

Linda:

Touché. Thanks. It's still hard trying to do what I hope to do—establish myself as an author—when I have these five little kids 10 and under. I question my own timing. How it's going to affect my children long-term (whether I succeed at writing or not).

Right now my kids are still so little, they don't know it's not exactly ordinary to have a mom who writes books. I'll either be "cool" when they hit junior high or embarrassingly strange... most likely the second, but I've got more practice being weird than being cool, anyway. . .