Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Other Side of "Mom"

It is a sunny February day, and I walk into our family dining room. My mother is sitting at her usual seat, plunking away at her laptop while my nearly two year old sister, Alyssa, sits at the other end of the table picking at her mac 'n cheese. Mom looks up at me, “I'm ready for my interview! But you'll have to do it while I tidy up the living room.” She gets up, wearing her usual sweat pants and t-shirt, with her dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. It still surprises me sometimes that my mother is not simply “mom.” She is also Tricia Goyer (a.k.a award-winning author).

I settle into the couch, pen and paper in hand. “Okay, I'm ready. First question—”

“Oh Leslie,” my mom says, “get your laptop. You know you'll be able to take notes faster with it.” I chuckle and run up to my room, quickly returning with my small laptop in tow.

“First question, mom: how did you first get interested in writing?”

“I have tons of blogs written about this that I could just send you to! But I'll tell you, myself.” She picks up a few of Alyssa's books from the floor and stacks them in a wicker basket. “I grew up loving to read, but I never really thought about becoming a writer. When I was young, oh, probably 21 or so,” she pauses and tilts her head while she thinks (a tendency that she passed down to me), “Yes, 21 is right! Because I was still pregnant with you. Anyways, I was serving in church with your Aunt Cindy, and she was telling me about a novel she was wanting to write. When I heard her talking about it, I started thinking about it too! It would be a great project since I was already a stay-at-home mom... Hold on one second.” She steps out of the room to put a few things in the kitchen.

I finish writing a few notes then she returns.

“So what did you do then? Did you immediately start working on a novel, too?”

“Well, kind of. I borrowed books on writing from the library and went to a few writer's conferences with Cindy. We went to one secular conference, and they were talking about building connections with publishers: taking them out for drinks, having a bikini hot tub time... we were like, no way!” She laughs, because we both understand how uncharacteristic it would be for her to go hot tubbing with business partners. “After that, we looked into Christian writer's conferences and found Mount Hermon Christian Writer's Conference. They had just finished their conference and the next one was a year away, so we started saving up so that we could go.”

Alyssa finished her mac 'n cheese, so mom wiped down her hands and face before turning back to me. “We went to Mount Hermon in 1994, and I talked to several editors about submitting articles. I got my first one published! It was for Life & Light magazine, and the title was Greatest Commandment, Part II. It was about how we focus so much on loving God, but we need to also remember to love others.”

I nod in agreement. “That's so true!”

She turns back to look at me, “I was very excited about it. But I didn't get another thing published for two and a half more years.”

Surprised, I look up at her from my notes, “Two and a half more years? What did you do?”

“I wrote a lot of articles, but none of them ever got published. I kept trying to write for what I thought the publisher wanted, but then they would change their mind.”

I find myself intrigued—I never realized how much of a struggle it was for my mom to get started. “What was the turning point for you?”

“In a writing conference I went to that year, I took a class that was focused just on writing articles. I learned a lot from that class, and in the next year I had thirty articles published! I tried venturing into novels after that, but again I struggled with getting published.”
“My biggest step came a little while later when I went to Europe with my friends and learned about the 11th Armored Division in World War II. I pitched a novel idea to my agent, and she said it was such a good idea! I think the reason none of my previous novel ideas worked is because God did not want me to get success in other areas. He had other plans for me.”

“Wow, that's so awesome! Now you are an accomplished author.” I remind myself that's she's had over thirty books published now. “What is the hardest part of your work?”

Mom takes a break from putting away the cluttered toys and thinks for a moment. “Not having enough time. I could just write 60 hours a week and keep myself completely busy. The publishers are coming to me now with book ideas, and I'm constantly having to turn down different book projects—including books for movies.” She sighs and tosses a pillow onto the couch. “That's actually the number one thing I get asked to speak about: how to balance kids and working at home. But what I've learned is that family is important. When you take care of your family, God helps you with your writing.”

I think about all of the time that my mother put into raising me and my siblings, homeschooling all of us as an extra weight. She continues, “One time—about eight or so years ago—I was working on an intense book deadline that was due in just two days. And grandma had to go to Wal*Mart. I took her, and at the end of our trip, I sat at the end of the aisle waiting for her. Getting madder and madder. In that moment, as my frustration grew, I felt God speak to my heart that taking care of my family is just as important as my deadlines. So now I try not to get so stressed, and if a book doesn't get done in time, I will just ask for a few days more. The most I've asked an extension for is about two weeks.”

“In spite of the stress, what is your favorite part about writing?”

The corners of her mouth perk up into a gentle smile. “I love working on the characters, their problems, researching the stories. When working on a book, I often don't know how things are going to work out, but things come together.” I see a warm contentedness settle over her. “And of course the reader feedback. One time, I got an email from a young girl in Switzerland who read one of my books. She told me that when my character became a Christian, she did too.”

It was an eye-opening experience to interview my mom on her career work. Growing up, all I've ever known was her as a writer. However, in interviewing her I discovered the hard work and struggle that went into her success. I often look at her and see a stay-at-home mom that does the laundry, cares for the baby, and makes dinner. She's more than just a mom. She's also a professional author that has seen great success in her career.