Motherhood & Words
Eight and a half years ago, I went to the coffee shop near my house, ordered a decaf coffee, and sat down with paper and pen. I hadn’t written in months and wasn’t even sure I had the mental capacity to still string together words into sentences. It was cold outside, February in Minnesota, streetlights illuminating silver streets and gray snow below. Stella was five months old, and I was exhausted beyond recognition. It seemed futile, in a way, to write. But I turned to my paper anyway, and began with this: Stella, two days old, tethered to a ventilator, wires snaking across her pop-can chest. And then this: my daughter’s too-small body beamed through the television set into my hospital room, a block away from where she lay, writhing on blankets, stretching her spindly arms into the air, struggling against something unseen.
Those images were the beginning of my memoir. Week after week I vomited out memories and images and random reflections until I had pages and pages of writing, writing that began to take shape. The following fall, when Stella was one, I returned to graduate school, and those pages became my Master’s thesis. A couple of years later, a full manuscript.
I found an agent and took a step back from the book as it was shopped around. And during that time away from the book, I realized what the real story was. I realized that it was a memoir about learning to live with uncertainty, a memoir about how narrative—stories—connect us to one another. I told my agent to stop sending it out, because I knew I had work yet to do on it. I printed out the 307 pages and put them to the side. Then I opened a new Word document and I started writing the book again, from the beginning.
In the five years since I had begun working on the book, I had (luckily) become a better writer. I also had a more intuitive understanding of narrative arc, a better sense of when I needed to go deeper into scene, or give the reader some breathing room with reflection or backstory or humor.
It took me two-and-a-half years to write the book again. In the meantime I was teaching and working on Use Your Words. I was thinking about craft, growing as a writer. I found a new agent, whom I adore. But still, I wondered whether the subject matter would still be deemed too difficult (even with our happy ending). Would I find someone who could see past the subject of motherhood and understand what the book was really about? There was nothing to do be wait, to be patient, to have faith that the book would fall into the right editor’s hands (and by “fall” I mean placed there by my brilliant agent).
Well, it’s happened. I’m thrilled to announce that my memoir (which I’m just calling the “memoir” right now because of a possible title change) has found a home with the University of Minnesota Press. It will be out fall 2013. Whoop! Whoop!
Thank you, Todd Orjala, for understanding my vision for this book.
Stay tuned, friends, for more information. And remember to never give up.