Mary DeMuth

Mary E. DeMuth is an expert in Pioneer Parenting. She enables Christian parents to navigate our changing culture when their families left no good faith examples to follow. Her parenting books include Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture (Harvest House, 2007), Building the Christian Family You Never Had (WaterBrook, 2006), and Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God (Harvest House, 2005). Mary also inspires people to face their trials through her real-to-life novels, Watching the Tree Limbs (nominated for a Christy Award) and Wishing on Dandelions (NavPress, 2006). Mary has spoken at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, the ACFW Conference, the Colorado Christian Writers Conference, and at various churches and church planting ministries. Mary and her husband, Patrick, reside in Texas with their three children. They recently returned from breaking new spiritual ground in Southern France, and planting a church.

The Making of a Masterpiece - Part One

I read an altogether fascinating book entitled Mockingbird by Charles J. Shields—a book about the life of novelist Harper Lee. Though, it’s frustrating that Shields has no first-hand interaction with his subject, I am learning a lot about what went on behind the scenes of my favorite novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Here’s what surprised me. Nelle Harper Lee wrote a novel based very closely on her life growing up in Monroeville, Alabama. I knew, of course, that Dill was Truman Capote, that Atticus was a prototype of her father, A. C. Lee. But many other details of her life correspond to the story as well: a character who looked and acted like Nelle’s distant, most-likely manic-depressive mother; a poor recluse boy-turned-to-man who was essentially held hostage by his obsessive father (Boo, anyone?); a trial about two black men accused of murder. The similarities are staggering.

And all these years, I felt it wrong to base things so closely on a novelist’s life. I don’t know why I thought that. Perhaps I believed that to truly create a fictional world, one must make it up. I suppose that’s why I am in awe of sci-fi and fantasy writers. They completely make worlds up! Tolkien created his own languages! Now, that’s creativity.

All my life I’ve had a deep longing to create things that no one else had. I couldn’t bear writing a story someone else had written. I’ve been suspicious of all the Joseph Campbell mythic structures. I wanted to do something new. Something never done before. I know now that nothing new is under the sun. But I also know that what a novelist does is bring herself/himself into the story in a vulnerable, naked way.

It all makes sense now, thanks to Nelle Harper Lee. When Building the Christian Family You Never Had (a nonfiction book released in 2006) came out, I felt naked. Frightened. In that

book, I shared the story of my upbringing. Two months later Watching the Tree Limbs came out, and oddly enough I felt even more naked. More afraid. Although I had exposed myself through the words of the pioneer parenting book, I felt my soul and heart lived on the pages of my novel.

I used to feel a little annoyed when folks would ask me if I’m Maranatha. I’d say no, of course. Because I want to create something utterly new. But the truth is Maranatha is a part of me, as I am a part of her. Maranatha is my mockingbird. I’ve made her breathe and sing and dance. My soul has enlivened hers.

It comforts me that Miss Lee spilled herself onto the pages of her book; that in a very real sense, she was Scout telling the story of mockingbirds in the South. What a deep encouragement it is to me that Harper Lee wrote what was familiar to her. Her pen ignited the familiar, bringing words to mythic truths on the pages of one of the most influential books of the twentieth century.

Mary DeMuth