So often, our choices are based on priorities and our priorities are set by necessities. There’s what we want to do and what we have to do, and the haves often take precedence.
For almost three years, I had to give up on a lot of things I wanted to do, and a lot of it involved my family. I had to let my husband become mom and dad and I had to ask him, gently, to make sure the house was clean, and that we had food in the fridge, and that one of us — he — was there when our daughter sang at chapel, went on a field trip, or won a reading award. It was all worth it. Writing a book is challenging — painful, at times. It tests you at every turn. It humbles you and forces you to face your limits and push yourself beyond those limits because you have to. The finish line is someplace far ahead and you know that there’s no other way to get there than to do more, dare more, stumble and fall and get up and try it once again until you get it right. And there's no way to do it alone. My husband and my daughter were my team. There was also the lady who cleaned my office every night after I was gone, taking away the empty coffee cups tossed in the trash can and the crumbs of cashews and granola bars sprinkled on my desk. Then, there were all the people who helped me tell the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots – their families, their close friends, their colleagues – people who loved them and understood them, and who made them real to me so that I could make them real to you. On the day The Fire Line was released, my daughter told me she wanted to go see it in a bookstore. We drove to a Barnes & Noble near us — The Fire Line is one of Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers picks this summer, so I knew I’d find the book there. She spotted it on the shelves before I did, and she rushed to grab it. She smiled. She flipped through its pages, read it a bit. She looked at the pictures and recognized Andrew Ashcraft and his children; she'd met the kids, and she'd heard a lot from me about “Mr. Andrew,” as she calls him. One day some months ago, I remember her looking up at the night sky and telling me that he was there, that Mr. Andrew was a star. I told her, yes, he is. All of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who left us on June 30, 2013 are bright, shiny stars. I brought my daughter and husband to New York a few weeks ago. On our last night, we stopped by another Barnes & Noble to escape from the pouring rain. She found The Fire Line there and, again, she held it, flipped through its pages. She turned to a New York City police officer standing next to us and said, “My mommy wrote this book.” He approached, shook my hand and grabbed a copy of the book from the shelves. “Thank you for writing this,” he told me. “Thank you for doing what you do,” I said. Then, I apologized. I had to go over to the children’s section, I told him. I had promised my daughter I was going to read her some books and let her pick one to bring home. It's all about priorities, after all.
WHY – AND HOW – I WRITE
The key to writing a good story is knowing what you don’t know and finding the right people and documents to help you learn it. You have a fundamental question that leads to a bunch of other questions that need to be answered so that your fundamental question makes sense. This is how I write.
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