Today, we welcome our friend and neighbor Linden Berry, celebrating the publication this March of Dances with Wolf, her first novel, a collaboration with her son, Josh, written as Farrah Taylor. Welcome, Linden, and congratulations!
Romancing the Story: Keeping It All in the Family
by Linden Berry
Last spring, when my son asked me to help him write a book for Entangled’s Bliss line, I was flattered and excited about the opportunity to work together. And overwhelmed. I’d never had a novel accepted for publication. Short stories in obscure journals, a handful of poems and three manuscripts gathering dust under my bed: that was my entire publishing history. Like Josh, I teach in public school, and editing three anthologies of middle school poetry comprised the work I was proudest of.
The novel would be set, like his first romance, Love Songs for the Road, in our favorite little town of Bigfork, Montana. Our work was cut out for us when we decided on our main characters, a horse-whispering woman and a leather-thumping rodeo cowboy. Our search for authentic Western names turned up Wolf Olsen for the guy and Abdabadun Maccready for the girl.
Before he dumped her at the Prom, Wolf was the leading man in Abby’s thoughts (though he’d scarcely noticed her in high school and thought of her as his younger sister’s sidekick.) When Wolf returns for Doc Macready’s birthday after eight rough years on the rodeo circuit, and Abby moves back from Seattle with her horse-healing trailer in tow, the two are poised to fall in love against the dramatic backdrop of the Continental Divide. Though I was ready by page 25 to have Abby and Wolf ride off into the sunset on matched palominos, Josh warned me that we’d have to create one conflict after another to keep them apart until they (and the readers) were good and ready.
My son and I live three thousand miles apart, so getting the manuscript off the ground was our first challenge. One snowy February afternoon, we traveled to a cross-country ski retreat and outlined the book. By the time I got back on the plane, my fingers were itching to write. If a metaphor for our process exists, it involves an untrained horse running around a ring (that would be me) with a disciplined rider in the center, flicking a whip at the horse’s heels (Josh). I quickly evolved into the writer of first drafts while he edited and made sense of nonsequitur scenes and characters. I watched You-Tubes of rodeo events and talked to a horse whisperer several times to give our manuscript authenticity.
We finished the book in eight months with Josh “super-editing” the sections about a day or two after I’d emailed them. I use the term “super-edit,” because I literally had no argument with any of the changes he suggested; he listened to our characters and got them just right. I hid out from friends and family dogs at our local library where I knew at least three books were being created around me; Josh wrote on the run between other writing projects and family.
The high energy level, the excitement of seeing the story progress, the awareness that this was a rare form of collaboration between mother and child: all of this creativity exacted a price. I was hungry ALL the time. And I wanted chocolate. Not good, expensive chocolate, metered out at an ounce per hour. But Safeway-ready chocolate. Cadbury’s 32-ounce Fruit and Nut Bar on the second aisle, on special 2/$3.00 with a Safeway card.
Thank you. That will do nicely. No, I don’t need help carrying my groceries to my car.
Seven pounds later, I arrived at the ultimate challenge: to write the important love scene on page 110, the one that would determine the future of the Entire Human Race.
I wrote a few smoking paragraphs, trying to offset my premonition that Josh would be shocked by their intensity with a genuine memory of myself as a young girl, falling in love with someone who loved horses as much as he loved me. He returned these pages without comment; my chocolate consumption dropped back to an ounce per day, and we finished the book on schedule.
Writing a romance with my son was a wonderful invitation to combine our talents and see what happened. Postpartum, I returned to a normal life of literary seclusion last summer in a cabin with my laptop, a Nespresso machine, and the eternally Unpublished Literary Manuscript.
My writing life is much duller without my writing partner. His editing skills – from the ruthless red-penciling of characters to his deft sequencing of scenes – were skills I lacked. My research on a sport new to both of us, rodeo, and a profession that was gaining credence among horse people, horse-healing and gentle training, proved essential to keep the story, and the romance, moving.
I learned a lot. And I came to value Josh’s literary skills more than ever.
No longer the hovering mother helping her child pound out draft after draft of the personal essay for college entrance: a role reversal had taken place.
If the opportunity arises, I’d partner again with him in a Montana minute.
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Dances with Wolf, by Farrah Taylor, was released by Entangled Press on March 10th. You can order it as an e-book or print book on Entangled, Goodreads, Amazon, B&N.com, and other sources. Ordering info and an excerpt here.