Inspired by a literary legend.
For several generations of brainy girls, Meg Murry, the protagonist of Madeleine L’Engle’s most recognized book “A Wrinkle in Time,” is their hero. Meg is incredibly intelligent, but struggles in school. She is impulsive, quick to anger and stubborn.
She is not the prettiest or most popular character. She is not even always likeable. She’s awkward and distasteful of how constraining school is for her. She has a brilliant mind for math but because she doesn’t want to follow the rules, she tends to fail academically.
She was one of the most relatable characters for me as a young girl. I always had my nose in a book and often got into trouble for reading under my desk in school. I had big glasses, lacked athletic ability and was completely out of tune with pop culture.
I still remember the first time I heard Madeleine L’Engle’s words. My mother was reading the book out loud to my brother in our backyard. I could not help but be drawn in by the story. I was obsessed with fairy tales and fantasy.
Sci Fi was not quite on my radar yet, but this was the moment where I realized that the right author could weave magic and science together.
I quickly read “A Wrinkle in Time” and moved on to the rest of the series. I discovered L’Engle’s “normal” young adult fiction, featuring the Vicky Austin and her family. I was delighted to learn that Vicky and Meg’s worlds collided periodically despite the lack of magic in the Austin series.
Years later, I delved further in Madeleine L’Engle’s life and writing.
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” ― Madeleine L’Engle
“A Wrinkle in Time” was rejected by 26 different publishers because they considered the storyline far too complicated. I still cannot tell you what quantum physics is but I never once had a moment of confusion with the plot. Before the creation of Meg Murry, science and math was thought of as a boy’s game. She was one of the first female protagonists in Science Fiction and Fantasy, paving the way for dozens of strong, imperfect characters from Princess Leia to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Hermoine Granger.
“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” ― Madeleine L’Engle
L’Engle herself was bookish and awkward. She had a lonely childhood which she spent hiding in books and writing. Reading meant a great deal to her. For me, reading was my passion. It was a lifeline. It was a hiding space. Reading was where I found the people I related to.
No matter what I was going through in life, whether it was being bullied in fifth grade or processing the suicide of my college roommate, reading was my way of “whistling in the dark,” as L’Engle called any sort of coping device.
L’Engle’s books in particular became a flotation device. I adored her intelligent characters and her female oriented plots that were never dumbed down. I turned to her words time and again for comfort and an escape.
“Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.” ― Madeleine L’Engle
I cannot pinpoint when I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I know that L’Engle played a major role in my chosen vocation.
At some point, I moved beyond reading nonstop to creating my own characters and worlds. I did not strive to write plots similar to L’Engle, but I was inspired by her focus and drive.
I wrote nonstop stop throughout middle and high school and pursued a writing major in college. I wanted to be a professional writer. I wanted to see a book I wrote on the shelves at Barnes and Noble.
I wanted some little girl to pick up one of my novels and be as moved by it as I was by L’Engle.
But I struggled as a writer. I lived in the worlds of my characters. I created scenes and dialogue and settings, but could not conceive of a real plot that could drive a book. I put my writing career aside and became a teacher. I missed the creative outlet of writing, but who had the time?
Eventually, being a stay at home mom afforded me the time and opportunity to write, first for a newspaper and then for blogs and She’s It.
Finally, one night, a novel popped into my head: a fictionalized version of my infertility journey, told through the lens of a support group for people trying to build a family. Trying to find the time to get the words down on paper has been a challenge. I have no idea what will happen when I actually finish writing. Will I be able to get published? Will I feel fulfilled simply from having completed a novel. I do not have those answers, but in the meantime I will be working whenever I can find a few minutes on The Maybe Baby Club. Madeleine L’Engle continues to inspire me as a writer who never gave up and who wrote her novels without knowing if she would find any sort of literary success.
“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”― Madeleine L’Engle
Even if my novel goes nowhere, I am grateful that I have found many opportunities to express my voice and story in writing over the last few years. The creative outlet has been necessary to make me feel human while home with two young children.
Whether through writing or reading, stories will always be an integral part of my life. One of my favorite parts of the day is sharing books with my daughters and watching them engage in creative, imaginative play. They may not want to write as I did, but they already are telling their own stories.
One day, I will share with them my most treasured possession: my battered paperback copy of “A Wrinkle in Time”, the very one that my mother read out loud to my brother. Inside, I will show them a message, written in L’Engle’s own hand, after I heard her speak and had the good fortune to meet her. “For Dorothy,” it reads, “tesser well. Madeleine L’Engle.”
I may not know how to travel through time and space the way Meg Murry did, but I will always hold the lessons I have learned from L’Engle’s life and works close to my heart.