Yesterday was a day to mark on my personal calendar: someone asked me what I’d published, listened to the very small list (in which I included stuff that has been paid for but not published), and was actually impressed. I blushed, I stammered, I almost peed my pants. But judge for yourself.

Anyway it was this mom and her daughter. The mother was about forty, if that. She wore a head scarf (but not the Amish/Mennonite thing, just a denim-blue headscarf), a blue calico shirt, and a blue calico dress. The calicos did not match. She was round–not fat, but round.

Her daughter was blonde, skinny, fresh-faced, and altogether clean-looking. Fifteen years old. (I think I remember her mother saying that.) They were in the writing-reference section, both of them sitting on the floor cross-legged, surrounded by a few books that they would shelve and unshelve, flip through, pass to each other, and put carefully aside.

“Do you think this one will explain how to write better characters?”

“Look through the chapters.”

“‘How to write better characters.'”

“We could try that one…”

And then the statement the parent of every teenager dreads: “I don’t know…”

So I recommended a couple. John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. The Write Great Fiction series.

“My daughter wants to be a writer, and being a home-schooling mother, I’ll try to indulge her.”

Her daughter didn’t roll her eyes, which took discipline. They talked to each other about a book that the daughter had been edging toward, picking up and putting back, for a couple of minutes. As if she knew it wasn’t going to fly.

“Look, mom. ‘Your character is at a party. Would she flirt or stand next to the wall, too shy to talk?'” She giggled. “Flirting.

Her mother stopped, suddenly still. (I’d never really seen anybody actually do that before. People make a lot of noise all the time. You just don’t notice until they don’t.) “But you wouldn’t flirt, would you?”

“Oh, no, mother…” the girl babbled on for a few seconds, then interjected as one of those afterthoughty-things-that-teenage-girls-do, “I might have accidentally flirted.”

Warning: If your child expresses interest in any type of creative writing, take this as a red flag that your child enjoys…drama. This may cause issues for cut-and-dried, black-and-white types who enjoy peace and quiet over conflict and change.

“But you didn’t flirt, did you?”

“No, not really, I guess.”

The girl allowed herself to be derailed from the conversation, but it was there in her eyes: someday, I am going to shock my mother, and it’s going to be fun.

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