Fingers crossed, I hope I get to meet today’s Friend Friday friend, Monika Schroeder, early next year when I wend my way east to North Carolina. I know we are going to hit it off right away; how could we not? She’s a fellow dog lover, having adopted a street dog, Frank, while living in India. I’m pleased to help her celebrate the publication of her fourth novel, Be Light Like a Bird (Stone Arch Books).
Thank you for inviting me to “Friend Friday” and for giving me the opportunity to share a bit about the process of writing Be Light Like a Bird.
Be Light Like a Bird is the emotional, realistic fiction story of 12-year old Wren who is heart-broken after losing her father in an airplane crash. Wren’s father always told her to be “light like a bird, not like a feather” – – to control her own destiny, to make her own choices. But Wren is adrift after her father dies and her mother acts distant and angry. Over the course of the story Wren needs to heal and grow, and when she finally learns the reason for her mother’s behaviour, they both have to learn to forgive.
In early drafts of the book the focus was on Wren’s trouble being the new girl in school and her fight to save the bird sanctuary. Over many revisions I felt that I hadn’t reached the core of who she was and what was hurting her. But I didn’t know how to fix it and left the manuscript in the drawer for a long time. And then I suddenly knew who Wren was: her father had died and her mother had dragged her to northern Michigan. From there I rebuilt the emotional arc of the novel, focusing on the grieving and her relationship to her mother.
It still took me a lot longer to finish Be Light Like a Bird than my previous novels. In hindsight, I realize that one reason for a slower writing process may have been that for the first time I braided together several subplots in a book: Wren’s relationship with her best friend Theo, her desire to fit in with the popular girls at school, her grief, the relationship with her mother and, finally, the school project she and Theo work on together which leads into their campaign to save a bird habitat. I am not a fast writer, and, after I had taken the original manuscript out of the drawer, more than two years went by before I had put all the scenes in the right place so that Wren’s emotional arc as well as the different plot components were aligned. Only when that structure were in place, I could begin to polish and edit the text.
Since it took so long to finish the book I experienced many moments of frustration. Like many writers in those moments I thought I could never shape this manuscript into a decent book. My poor husband had to listen to me whine frequently and repeat the question, “Will I ever finish this book?” I appreciate his patience and constant encouragement. He reminded me that time actually doesn’t matter while writing a book. What matters is to get it right — and not to lose faith.
Monika Schröder writes novels for middle grade readers. Among her books are Saraswati’s Way, a story of an Indian street child and The Dog in the Wood, set in eastern Germany at the end of WWII. She grew up in Germany but has lived and worked in American international schools in Egypt, Oman, and Chile. Before moving to the US she was the elementary school librarian at the American Embassy School in New Delhi, India. She now lives and writes in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina with her husband and her dog.