I had an odd experience this week. Emily Rose, my novel to which I have given over very little thought or time lately, has come back into my life in the strangest of ways.
As those of you who read regularly know, I have been volunteering at a local school for the last week and a half. It is a lovely place to be, full of teachers that actually care about their kids, kids that actually want to be in school, and Smart Boards. One of my host teachers was asking me about what I had been doing since I quit teaching at my old school, and the topic of writing came up. And while the phrase, “I’m writing a book,” comes up with roughly 90% of University graduates these days, I felt a tiny flicker of pride at being able to say that I actually finished writing mine.
Of course, the flicker was quickly stomped upon as I hurriedly explained that it was neither published nor even on the horizon of going global.
Nevertheless, this teacher (bless her heart) wanted to know more about Emily Rose, particularly where it had come from in the first place. And strangely, I can answer that question succinctly and without philosophizing about muses and substance abuse. Emily Rose came from here:
This picture became the seed for so much of what the story became. There was an older, rougher sketch of it somewhere, one that I had drawn many months before I had really got into writing this book, but I have since lost that one in the stacks of notes, drawings, and maps.
Now, when I mentioned this picture to my host teacher, she became very animated. She asked if I would be willing to bring in the manuscript and the picture for the students to see, maybe even teach a writing lesson by examining the value of imagery as inspiration. Within a few minutes of discussion, we had hashed out a plan to use with two different classes, and that night Emily Rose was dusted off and packed into my MEC Deluxe Bookbag©.
A classroom full of kids is a funny thing. Standing in front of them can be simultaneously the most terrifying and most edifying thing in the world. They can be merciless, ruthless, and cutting. But they can also be inspiring, supportive, and brilliant. Sometimes they manage to be both at once. So often, I have stood before them and allowed myself to be vulnerable, knowing that they hold my entire self-worth in their hands, and they have never taken advantage of that.
These kids were no exception. They don’t really know me that well. They could easily have laughed at my silly picture, rolled their eyes, ignored my lesson. But even the grade 8s, those teen-aged paragons of indifference and scorn, chose instead to engage, drawing out the threads of my novel from clues in the picture, finding conflict and plot and setting and meaning, allowing me to take them through the process of building an imaginary world full of real people. One girl asked if she could read my manuscript, and encouraged me not to give up on getting Emily Rose published.
The grade 6s went even deeper down the rabbit hole. By the end of the 30 minutes with them, I was thinking that the class could have collectively summarized my entire novel with nothing more than that picture up on the screen. They laughed and questioned and theorized in ways that you would not expect from children.
Most importantly, they reminded me of the value of telling stories.