Anyone who reads When Sparrows Fall might wonder if the story is drawn from my own experiences. Am I like Miranda, a homeschooling mother whose six children have never heard of the Beatles or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? Am I like Miranda, whose husband taught her that fiction is frivolous, if not downright wicked?
Well, no. Although my husband and I homeschooled our three children, we backed away from extremist views before we got in over our heads. Unlike Miranda, I don’t see the government as my adversary, I’ve never been married to an abusive man, and I certainly don’t have Miranda’s qualms about enjoying fiction. Like her, though, and like parents everywhere, I want my children to be safe and happy, no matter how old they are.
My fictional characters are my children too, in a sense, birthed in my imagination. I daydreamed Miranda into existence by asking myself, “What if?”
What if a homeschool mom is a single parent, raising a large family on her own? What if she has a secret that someone uses against her? What if she encounters spiritual abuse in her church but isn’t free to leave?
While I pondered those questions one day, a literature professor named Jack showed up in my head. I don’t know where he came from, but he walked onstage fully himself—and full of himself. If fact, I had to tone him down so his mouthy charm wouldn’t overshadow his kind heart.
I liked Jack right away, but I didn’t like Miranda in the early drafts of the story. Because her marriage had made her not just submissive but subservient, she had all the backbone of a wet dishrag. As I revised the story, though, she turned into a fighter with opinions and nerve and a sense of humor, which she needed for her dealings with the sometimes difficult Jack.
Although I didn’t name Miranda after the heroine of Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, I soon saw the parallels. Shakespeare’s Miranda lives on an isolated island where she’s controlled by a manipulator, much like my Miranda lives in isolation under the thumb of a conniving clergyman. I scoured The Tempest for appropriate lines for Jack to quote to Miranda, but none of them worked so I scrapped that idea. Jack does quote a variety of playwrights, poets, and songwriters, though. If you pay attention, you’ll find tidbits from Robert Burns, Stephen Sondheim, and many more. I had a lot of fun with that, and—dare I say it?—I think Jack enjoyed it as much as I did.
I enjoyed creating the children, too, giving them names from the Bible because that’s surely what Miranda and her late husband would have done. When I started the story, the kids were just a noisy mob in the background, but eventually they emerged as individuals.
If I’m allowed to have a favorite among the children, it’s the youngest girl, Martha, whose childlike wisdom makes her a mentor to Jack. I didn’t see that coming, though. It wasn’t until I’d finished the story that I saw how much the four-year-old teaches the smarty-pants professor—and the author, too.
Yes, I’m like Miranda in some ways. From the day I started playing with her story until the day I typed “The End,” I learned lessons with Jack and Miranda. One of them is that it’s all right to admit that you don’t have all the answers and you never will.