Writing ‘Raising Wrecker’, a Labor of Love

Summer Wood is my guest this week. Summer is the author of Raising Wrecker, a contemporary novel that won a WILLA Literary Award this year, and writes about how this book came about.

by Summer Wood

summerAs a reader and a writer, I love stories that challenge my ordinary perception. As a mother, on the other hand, I find I’m perfectly okay with the status quo.  I don’t need surprise or revelation in that job description. I like it when things go smoothly.  I don’t like to have my feathers ruffled.

Except, of course (Mothers? Can you confirm this for me?) – they never do go completely smoothly, do they?

Raising Wrecker came about because of an unexpected bump in my personal motherhood curve.  And even though my writing rarely follows the contours of my life, the experience of being a foster parent was so emotionally acute that I turned to fiction to see my way through to a clearer understanding.

We entered the experience innocently enough. We had trained to become emergency foster care parents, thinking that if a local kid needed someplace to stay briefly while the family was in trouble, we could harbor him or her for a weekend or so.  With our three sons and their friends, our place was overrun with kids, anyway.  The screen door kept slamming as one neighbor child or another came or went.  What was one more for a couple of days?

One, maybe; but the first call we got was for four small brothers who needed a family to stay with.  Their parents were both battling drug problems, in trouble with the law, and the authorities had removed the kids upon confirmation of neglect.  Sally, the social worker, said that if we couldn’t take these boys – aged 4, 3, 2, and not-quite-1 – they’d be split up and sent to different homes.

You want us to take them for the weekend?

Indefinitely, she said, and coughed politely into her hand.

We thought hard. We consulted our sons. And then we said yes, and for nearly two winter months, these small boys – who came to us with pneumonia, an amazing roster of aberrant behaviors, a black trash bag of shorts, t-shirts, and ill-fitting sneakers, and the most cherubic little faces – lived in our home and rapidly took up residence in our hearts.

It’s a long story, the saga of their journey back and forth, into and out of their parents’ custody. We became friends of the family, kind of informal kin to the boys. We were on hand to help when a fifth child was born with medical complications. We rooted for the parents, celebrated with them, wept with them, and when, at last, the whole house of cards came tumbling down, we felt our hearts break for them as their parental rights were terminated and the boys were adopted out to separate families.

wrecker1I didn’t write this novel in conscious response to having fostered those children.  As any novel will, it grew out of a rank stew of personal experience, literary experiment, political inquiry, and meandering imagination – with a good dose of love, whimsy, fear, humor, and warped psychological obsession thrown in.  This imaginary child, Wrecker, arrived in a public

playground one June afternoon in 1965, and I wanted to know what would happen to him.  I wanted to know his mother, and how she lost him, and who would come to love and raise him, and what kind of man he would turn out to be.

Writing his mothers into being – both the one who gave him his start, and the one into whose arms he fell – meant coming to terms with the power of parents. It meant coming up hard against the truth that no parent, not one of us, is perfect. It meant facing head-on the fact that the mistakes we make can have grave consequences. It meant learning forgiveness as a kind of survival strategy.

I’ve come to believe that it is a radical expression of love to parent any child.  And that there’s no right way to do it.  It can only be done by trial and error, and error, and error, and trying again. And, yes; there will be unexpected bumps. There will be ruffled feathers.

And writing Wrecker himself? Writing Wrecker into being was a way for me to believe again in the possibilities open to children. I needed to reconnect with the hope that led us to step forward and say:  yes.  With whatever we can offer, for as long as we can, we’ll welcome these children into our lives.

It was an honor to have the chance to know those boys and their parents.  And the best way I knew to pay back that honor was to bring this other boy, Wrecker, into the world, and let him muscle his way, with grace and love and a good share of noise, into his future.

www.summerwoodwrites.com

Published in: on January 4, 2013 at 6:01 am  Comments (3)  
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Celebrate With a Free Book and My Recommended Books List

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Come and help me celebrate my birthday, which is Monday the 10th, and I will give some lucky commenter  your choice of Cowgirl Dreams or Follow the Dream.

All you have to do is share this post on Facebook, Twitter or any of your other social networks, then leave a comment with the links. I will put your name in the Cowgirl hat for the drawing! The more links you post, the more times I’ll put your name in. (Paper books limited to the U.S., out of the U.S. will receive an electronic version.)

And, my Christmas gift to you is FREE SHIPPING on orders for autographed books from now until Dec. 25! (Also in the U.S.)

Books make great Christmas gifts. They are inexpensive, they take the reader on great adventures, and you can read them again as many times as you’d like (even share them with friends and family!)

Here are a few of my recommendations:

Tubob-CoverTubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps, by Mary E. Trimble. This memoir describes her and her husband’s life in third-world country The Gambia. As Peace Corps volunteers, they struggle with cultural differences and do what they can for people who are often reluctant to change. Hardships abound, but so do strong friendships. Humor is abundant, but so is misery. Early on, the newlyweds were told that Peace Corps would either make or break a marriage. Mary and Bruce find out how true that is.  To learn more about Tubob, click here  To order Tubob, click here

Dividing SeasonThe Dividing Season, a novel by Karen Casey-Fitzjerrell. In The Dividing Season, Karen Casey Fitzjerrell celebrates the redemptive qualities of the human spirit and raises the question:  What are you willing to give up in order to calm those  secret longings that beg for something more?     Near the end of her life, Nell Miggins decided all her years spent on earth could be divided into two parts, each equally content but separated by a season of bewildering uncertainty and death. She remembered the stinging edge of desperation the day the dividing season began and understood clearly that if it hadn’t been for the Windmiller she’d have lived the last half of her life as a shriveled old fool never knowing the grace and simple joy of just being. Order here

wrecker1Raising Wrecker by Summer Wood, A WILLA Literary Award Winner. By turns funny, moving, and gripping, Wrecker is the story of a nearly-broken boy whose presence turns a motley group of isolated eccentrics into a real family. Real enough to make mistakes. Real enough to stick together in spite of everything ready to tear them apart. Order here

Moonshine Murder coverMoonshine Murder a Young Adult novel by Erin Gray.  When seventeen-year-old Lenora Giovanni’s father dies from tainted moonshine, leaving her alone, she is forced into a life of danger. Lenora is determined to find whoever sold the poison to her father–a determination that leads her into working as an undercover agent in the town of Durango, Colorado. Falling in love with a bootlegger, how will Lenora choose, with her head or her heart? Order here

The InheritorsThe Inheritors by Judith Kirscht, the author of Nowhere Else to Go. Raised in Chicago’s Latino working class community during the Sixties, Alicia Barron uncovers her mother’s Caucasian roots when she inherits a time-worn mansion, the remnant of the estate of a Chicago industrialist who, she discovers, is her grandfather. Her search of the house takes her into the lives of past generations of women whose love carried them across forbidden boundaries, and into the conflict of class, nationality, and race that is the history of the city itself. The identity she finds there, however, leads to increasing conflict with her first great love, Ricardo Moreno, who wants Alicia to reject her gringo roots. Order here

Can you add any books to this list?

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