About three years ago, I was in grocery shopping in a Trader Joe’s when an accident unfolded in the middle of the store. A woman was pushing her toddler in the cart, and he was sitting in the wrong part. The cart pitched forward, and the toddler fell on the ground and became hysterical. The woman dropped everything and came to him, scooping him up and rocking him right there in the middle of the produce.
I couldn’t help but absorb what she was going through – the fear that her child was hurt, the guilt that he hadn’t been sitting properly, the embarrassment of being at the center of attention, the feelings of being judged or ridiculed for her parenting skills…
And so opens the beginning of my very next book.
That year (2011), it was that very scene that planted the stage for my NaNoWriMo novel. I played a “What if” game in my mind.
What if this woman came home, and had to face her husband about the mysterious lump on his forehead?
What if the effect of the fall had terrible consequences for the kid?
What would happen to the family after that?
I began the story this way, addressing these “What ifs” with the story of Jill, a woman who loses her son after he hits his head on the slick linoleum of the grocery store. But as I wrote fast (remember, it’s NaNoWriMo – 50K words in 30 days!), another “What if” happened.
What if, as the woman ventures out in the world following the tragedy, something bad happens again?
Enter Maddie, a 16-year-old girl who is pregnant, homeless, and needs a little cash to survive. She finds this by trying to steal Jill’s wallet, setting off a whole new direction of dilemmas and consequences that unfold in a dual story of both mothers’ lives.
I finished that book at just over 50,000 words, and then set it aside to edit later. “Later” turned into years, though the story has haunted me for just as long. So a few months ago, I set aside all my other writing projects (including a book I was in the middle of writing) and picked this book back up to polish and prepare for publication.
To give this still-to-be-named book a fresh start, I retyped the whole thing. As I typed, I added in a few parts, took out a lot more parts, and did my best to make the story a little more 3-dimensional. The process gave me about 20,000 more words to the manuscript (though really it’s more, since I took out a ton of stuff!). And yesterday, I was able to wrap a bow on the rough draft of the book, typing out the words THE END.
Those are some beautiful words, right?
Now comes the fun part – editing. Yeah, I kind of already edited as I went along. But it felt more like writing than editing. So for the next few weeks I’ll be going through it chapter by chapter, smoothing out the edges and preparing it for all of you.
And eventually I’ll even have a book title to share! (<—-Why is that always harder than writing the book itself???)
For now, here’s the rough synopsis of the book you can look forward to reading by the end of this year:
Two mothers. Two different roads in life. Two unimaginable events. This is Jill and Maddie’s story about how life’s twists and turns had an impact on their identity, their future, and the lives they unexpectedly touch in between.
P.S. I have found a name for this novel! The Road to Hope. And it will be released sometime this fall. For a sneak peek at an excerpt from Chapter 1, click here.
3 thoughts on “How Trader Joe’s helped me write my latest novel”
I’m impressed with you (as usual!). Thanks for reminding me of “what if” as I go through a long period of writer’s block (or is this procrastination?)
The ‘What ifs’ are the best way to keep moving forward in a novel! 🙂
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