This Mother’s Day is extra special for me since my mother largely inspired my new novel, Paper Boats.
When I set out to write Paper Boats I knew the kind of story I wanted to write about. I had a thorough plan involving the required research, plot, characters, etc. I wrote the first ten chapters and proudly sent it to my mom, an avid reader and critic. Now before I get to what she thought of it I have to tell you a little about her.
My mom speaks her mind. She’s direct and doesn’t sugar coat anything. If something was horrible she told you. If she didn’t like something, she told you. If you did something wrong, she whacked you on the butt with a wooden spoon and then told you. Yes, I had a sore butt most of my youth. And if you ask me it wasn’t always well deserved. I had a brother and sister to blame some of the time, but it didn’t matter, she smacked us all and didn’t worry about who did what. Right or wrong, that’s how things were. You respected your elders. And if you ask me, we need more of this sort of thing these days.
By now you have probably guessed what she thought of the book. It wasn’t pretty, but she was right. What I always appreciated about and learned from her is that, while she may tear things apart, she always provides solutions. That’s good parenting and an even better leadership skill.
Otto, in the original story idea, had a small part in the beginning of the first two chapters and then went away. After chapter two I fast-forwarded to modern day where we see Otto’s own son discovering the clues of his father’s life during World War Two and then going on a journey to solve the mystery. It was my mom’s idea to focus the entire story on Otto as a child. She recognized how special Otto was and developing a story around the themes he as a child would have to face in order to survive. I know good ideas when I hear one, having spent 29 years in the advertising business. And I also know there is no room for ego when a good idea plops into your lap. You just have to go with it!
We spent the next 8 years developing the story and arguing back and forth about the what, where, how and when of the plot and the characters. I’m glad she doesn’t live too close to me because I’m sure some of those conversations had the making of a swift smack of the wooden spoon on my butt. I turned the manuscript over to a very well respected editor for final touches, as it’s always smart to have fresh eyes with a different perspective.
When the book was completed, I had to admit it made for a much more engaging, gripping, and emotional read than the original idea. For readers who like to go on a journey and dismiss reality, the book is being well received. But for me, while I’m humbled people from around the world are enjoying it; the real joy is being proud of the work my mother and I created together.