I’ve told this story a few times now on various blogs, so forgive me if you’ve already heard the tale of how The Guest Book came to be. But it’s a story I like, one that shows the values of readers interacting with books and authors, which is what we celebrate here at She Reads every day. So I’m going to share it here.
I received a letter in response to my first novel, The Mailbox, a story about a mysterious mailbox on the coast of North Carolina that united two people over time and against the odds. The reader wanted to tell me how much the book meant to her, and to share that reading the story brought back memories of her girlhood days spent at her grandmother’s lake house. She wrote that her grandmother had a guest book in the lake house and that it was customary for the family members who vacationed there to leave a message about what they’d done and enjoyed in their time there, connecting the family members to each other via this simple little book. She shared that when she was very little—too small to write words, her father had encouraged her to draw a picture instead, reminding her that pictures could communicate as much as words.
Instantly an image filled my head—the little blonde girl bent intently over the guest book, endeavoring to make her drawing the best, to say all that she could about a wonderful vacation in this one drawing. But the little girl in my head wasn’t alone. She had this loving father standing in the background, watching proudly as she drew. In that moment, The Guest Book was born.
The other elements—Macy’s prayer, the three men showing up in answer, the final scene, her daughter and mom and brother—all emerged slowly, as I waited patiently for them to. I love this quote from author Andre Dubus about letting the elements emerge: “There’s a profound difference between making something up and imagining it. Imagining it instead is falling into your psyche, your imagination, and finding something that’s already there that wants to come out—instead of you pushing it into the world.”
I am so happy that reader wrote me and shared her story, because her story morphed into Macy’s story. A story I was surprised by, yet so happy to find.
About Marybeth Whalen
Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.