I wrote a book called The Secret Hum of a Daisy, which is about twelve-year-old Grace who loses her mom unexpectedly and has to move away from friends she has come to love as family. Even worse, she must live with a grandmother who turned her back on Grace’s mama long ago. Grace is prickly, a bit of a troublemaker, and doesn’t know what to do with her pain.
The story tugged at me even though I’d been told “dead mom” stories were a hard sell. By contrast, I’d also been told not to pay attention to trends or the market, that I needed to follow my heart. But it seemed a risk to be writing something that had been done so well by the greats: Katherine Paterson, Cynthia Rylant, and Sharon Creech, just to name a few. After all, I did want to eventually publish.
But this particular sad story continued to pull at me so that it started to feel I was abandoning Grace if I didn’t tell it, and in a way, abandoning myself. I was scared, to be honest, to lay myself bare, even if it was a made-up story, because I knew I would be pulling on my own hardship as emotional fuel. Was I ready to go there? Could I handle revisiting some of the most devastating things that happened to me as a child?
I didn’t know. But I pushed ahead believing I owed it to myself to find out.
I also knew going in that there would be people who wouldn’t like what I had to say. There would be those who might want to censor me in the way dysfunctional families want to keep a lid on things. But the idea that we are as sick as our secrets fueled me to keep reaching inward, to unveil all that was ugly and try to heal while I wrote. Our stories, Grace’s and mine, didn’t align in any outward way. But our inward journeys were the same.
I have been accused of writing for myself instead of my audience, as though this is a bad thing. This has made me feel ashamed, like I did when I was a kid, responsible for keeping secrets. I have had the worst possible things said about the characters in my story, and I felt just as ashamed for the past I drew on to give them life.
More fuel for my writing journey.
Sometimes I wish I had different stories in my head. Ones that didn’t have so much sadness. But then I read something like the simple “All you need is Love” from 365 Days of Wonder, by R. J. Palacio, and realize I am enough. My stories are enough. I have something valuable to contribute to the journey of a child.
We all have great purpose in being on this planet, I believe. And that purpose is usually uncovered in the small things. Eskimo kisses and listening. Concerning ourselves with kindness and the needs of others, not just ourselves. A million gems of experience found in the pockets of our lives. We draw on these things for strength in times of great sadness or distress and pour them into our stories, sad or happy, in the hopes a child will hold on to them, cherish them maybe. And we can only do this by telling the truth. Our truth.
There is no greater gift.
Tracy Holczer is the author of The Secret Hum of a Daisy.