For author Patti Hill, home is where the heart is
One of the passages in local Christian author Patti Hill’s first novel talks about how a house is reshaped by its owners.
“The house became more a part of us, the Garrett family, than anyone else. It reflected our movements and our tastes. We made it to fit us,” she wrote in “Like a Watered Garden.”
“I could write that because I very much believe that if you live in a house long enough then your heart is there,” Hill said.
Just like the Garrett family that Hill created in her novel, she and her husband, Dennis, have spent years reshaping their house to fit their growing family and its diverse interests.
They purchased their first home in the Spring Valley subdivision in 1986, in an economy similar to today’s housing market.
It had everything their young family needed, a solid roof, a good elementary school for their sons Geoff and Matt, and a yard with a good fence because their younger son “was a wanderer.”
“We saw this house as a real gift to be able to afford it, barely,” said Hill, who laughed as she recalled the memory.
It also had one dead bush in a barren back yard. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
Dennis, co-owner of Bookcliff Gardens, saw the yard as a blank slate and a place to experiment on new plant species before recommending them to his customers at the popular gardening center.
Finding time to landscape the back yard while keeping track of her two young sons was hard, Hill said. She had even less time to indulge in writing.
She spent an entire summer getting up very early, before the boys awoke, to plant just a few seedlings each day. By the end of the summer, she had planted more than 20 bushes. Hill will never forget the she felt after finishing the job.
Now, the back yard looks more like a botanical garden, and those same bushes are mature and magnificent. Hill can recount many memories her family made in that yard through family gatherings, parties, playing and just being together working in the garden.
In the past 24 years, Hill’s house has become not only a place of shelter, but a space for countless sock wars, graduation parties and a place to nurture creativity, Hill said.
When her boys were elementary age, Hill went back to work as an elementary teacher in School District 51 and taught until 1999.
As the Hills’ careers and children grew, they considered moving to a larger house — theirs was 1,800-square-feet — then decided against it.
“We didn’t move because we like our neighbors,” Hill said.
Instead, the Hills made a few additions, including a laundry room and master bathroom. The most recent addition was a larger great-room just off the newly remodeled kitchen.
“I’ve always wanted to live in an English cottage, so that is the style we were going for,” Hill said.
Throughout the years, Hill kept her dream of becoming a writer alive, hoping someday she would find the time and courage to take the characters she invented during her daily commutes to school out of her head and put them on paper.
“I just had this incredible itch to try writing and take a break from teaching,” Hill said, “I’ve always been a bit of a storyteller, which means I’ve tasted a lot of soap!”
After both Geoff and Matt had left for college, Hill thought perhaps they would return and her empty nest would be full again. She waited, and when it seemed clear her sons would no longer be full-time residents, she made one of their bedrooms her own space to write.
She enlisted her sister to help faux paint the walls. She hired a mural painter to bring the outdoor garden into the room by painting a birdhouse and flowers on the walls. She used a branch from the back yard to hang a valance over the window.
“The garden is the other place I love to be, and I was trying to capture that,” Hill said. “And, I knew I was going to be spending a lot of time here.”
And eventually she began to write.
“It took a year to finally start writing because I had to learn to drag my characters through the mud, then throw rocks at them,” Hill said.
She wasn’t sure what to write about so “I wrote about what my husband knew.”
She made a conscious decision to allow her Christian faith to be reflected in her characters. “I could have written mainstream fiction, but I had a hard time viewing writing without it because it just permeates who I am,” Hill said.
Writing fiction was hard work and she spent long hours in her home office.
“I’d nudge Dennis in the middle of the night and ask things like, ‘How can I kill a rose in a mysterious way?’ ” Hill said.
Learning to be a writer was humbling and much more complicated than she expected. The first chapter of her novel was rejected when she sent it to the publisher Bethany House the first time.
An injury kept her from writing for a while. Then, as she recovered, she forced herself to write one page a day, then two, until her first book was completed. That first novel took her nearly two years to write.
And after Hill got an agent to shop her book around to publishers, Bethany House ended up accepting the novel and published it in 2005.
Since then, Hill has dedicated every morning to writing. She’s published four more books and is working on a fifth.
“I’ve created so many stories here,” Hill said, pointing to a stack of books all with her name on them on display on a shelf in her office.
Sometimes she and Dennis think of downsizing to a house with a smaller yard, but “my heart is here because of the people that are here and the memories that are here,” she said.
Want to meet Patti Hill? She will be signing copies of her newest book, “Seeing Things,” from 4-6 p.m. March 20 at Hastings Books, 2401 North Ave. More information is available at http://www.pattihillauthor.com.