I sent Native American author Gabriel Horn a Q&A about his new book MOTHERLESS. When I got back just one answer – the first – with promises to finish the questionnaire, I knew this was an interesting stand alone piece for writers writing. It is also a true picture of what drives the writer’s art: OBSESSION. We write and we rewrite. Nothing is ever over and nothing is ever finished, just like life.
Q: Why did you write and rewrite Motherless? What drove you?
A: Maybe I am crazy. That being said…
A master teacher and writer told me early on, nearly 50 years ago, There is no such thing as writing; only rewriting. And, I remember reading how Hemingway once said, he never considered himself a great writer, but a damn good rewriter. I remember reading that he rewrote the last page of For Whom the Bell Tolls forty-nine times. That’s one page! I understand how that can happen. I might’ve broken his record. I had taught this idea of rewriting to my own writing students over the years, and now I was once again, more than ever, having to walk the talk. The writing had to be my best because I knew the content of Motherless would not be one corporate publishers might want to handle from an Indigenous perspective. If I could find the words that could reach into one of their hearts…. If I could write something so moving it would have to be published….
Stories evolve like people evolve. Or they should. This story grew inside of me. I saw it in my daughter’s eyes. I felt it in my wife’s tears. It lived in my mind. It lived in my spirit. It dreamed inside of me. And I kept writing it and rewriting it to make it perfect as it is flawed.
I would wake up every day, week after week, month after month, year after year, driven to keep at it because I love the Earth. I respected my agent, Lisa Hagan, and she deserved the best I had because she believed in me; she believed in this story. I was driven because I knew there was a diversity of young and older people in the world who also loved the Earth, or had strong feelings about saving our planet from the consequences of human arrogance and greed. I had something they might want to hold. A perspective they may have forgotten and wanted to know again. Something they might need. I had this story being born of me. This story that needed to be told. I was driven because this is what I do, this is who I am. This is why I’m here.
And I would dream…. It has been said, Wisdom comes in dreams. And I would write and rewrite.
Motherless had to be good writing because of what it says, the theme itself so disturbing, and yet so profoundly wonderful. I have never talked down to young people. I have never written down to young people. I just had to find the right words. Just like in the story, Grandpa is always struggling to find the right words, and at one point when he questions himself, he hears the memory of his wife telling him that it was alright … give Rainy the words, in time she would understand them. Writing about a history that is not a good history, like genocide, and writing about this environmental holocaust in which we are presently living, created so many drafts I can’t count, all created around the loving souls of the characters, though, and for the loving souls of its future readers. This kind of writing, and rewriting, is not for the faint of heart.
I shared drafts of Motherless with friends I’ve had for many years who I could trust to give honest feedback. Some were teachers and teachers of teachers, and a few writers themselves, and most of them had grandkids and they would read with them Motherless. And I would revise, or write, sometimes just based on one little word they would say. A daughter of a friend who read a draft of Motherless sent me a clay turtle she had made in school and a drawing she had done about the book to help me along the way. I kept those by my computer as I revised and wrote. Revised and wrote. Wrote and revised. I listened to what she said when she told her dad about the story, especially about other kids, and Mr. Kline, and about school. He’s got that right, she said. Another grandchild said to her grandmother, I like the writing. Man, I needed those affirmations.
Don’t they always say that publishing is about timing? Timing. Motherless will be published when it’s ready…. Be patient. I would hear these whispers out of the Mystery. When the timing is right…. And so, I used the time to revise and write, and write and revise.
And after years of revising Motherless, you, Beth Wareham, got my best. And then you, with your extraordinary sense of things, feel for story, gave me the suggestions I needed and the reasons why I needed to make some cuts. Tighten it up. Keep it moving! Get this baby turtle ready to hatch! I understood you. You were awesome.
I had completed the final revision. Lisa half jokingly said before I let go of the final draft, I think you might have revised a thousand times.
Now Motherless is in the world and there will be no more revising.
TO ORDER GABRIEL HORN’S LATEST BOOK MOTHERLESS, CLICK ON THE TITLE